The installations of Michael Zansky achieve a high degree of empirical encounter that combine paradox and spectacle with an air toward transcendence. “American Panopticon" at The Hampden Gallery of The University of Massachusetts in Amherst presents the karmic transgressions a of a popular sports figure as a rumination on the shortcomings of hero worship, presenting a vivid and macabre scenario combining dramaturgy and totemism into a metaphor that questions the very fate of the soul.
The person’s name in the title of this artwork was a popular sports figure, a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons football team, who was tried and convicted of running a corporation of kennels that were a front for the criminal enterprise of running dog fight clubs. As a sports figure, a success story in his own right, it was not only ethically negligent for him to be involved in such a venture, but it was also a betrayal of the values that contribute to our appreciation of such persons as role models in comparison to our own workaday lives. Not only did Vick break laws and transgress ethical boundaries, but did so with little regard for the sensitivities of his many fans or for the lives of the many dogs which he put into jeopardy.
Two elements make up the installation: a projection of a silhouette of a dog obscured on the side and magnified on the other by large industrial lenses, with its brooding shadow spread out on the wall behind it. The other is an extremely bright and intense searchlight that wanders across an opposite wall, floating down to the floor; disappearing momentarily; appearing and rising, then traveling to the right; eclipsed by the corner; moving back out again; and then up and away.
These two projects are each a depiction of karma, and so referred to as “the transmigration of the soul” and what Buddhists in particular describe as “stream of consciousness.” One, the light, is the soul in motion, wandering through the universe, limited by the frame of mortality, but always moving from birth to rebirth. The spotlight is large and bright and seems to love quirkily, with meaning but without specific intent. Many times it disappears from sight, and eventually it fades altogether, or at least our understanding of it does. The spotlight is radically contrasted with the refracted and projected image of the dog. If we look close we can see the transformation that Vick takes from humanity to beastliness. There is a trace of pain in the eyes of this effigy, and a weariness as it leans down to stand on all fours. From afar we see only a slim and penitent creature that exists to fulfill a specific bidding, whether as a beast or burden or as man’s best friend. We gaze back and forth between the light and the shadow, slowly discerning their obscure connection, distracted and compelled by each.