33. Alfredo Jaar

ALFREDO JAAR (b. Chile, active in New York since 1982), BE AFRAID OF THE ENORMITY OF THE POSSIBLE, Neon, 2015, Edition 2 of 3 with 3 AP, The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond, 2016.3.7.

This neon installation is a difficult piece to miss; it was created by, Chilean-born artist, Alfredo Jaar. It was created in 2015, and its title is exactly what we read: Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible.

Jaar’s body of works embraces several different methods of artistic creation--neon, photography, billboards, and performance, among others. His practice is informed by his education in architecture and film.

As viewers, we are faced with an immense statement--both physically and psychologically. The words, “Be afraid of the enormity of the possible,” appear before us in bright red, orange, and yellow neon. The colors--often colors of warning--coupled with the capitalized letters work together to grab the attention of anyone in the vicinity.

Jaar’s statement is psychologically forceful and rather ominous. This is not only a work of art but an ethical declaration. The words we see align with the artist’s desire to effect the viewer and provide a space for contemplate the many global issues often forgotten or censored.

Jaar’s statement reference the collection of nihilistic essays by Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran called A Short History of Decay. It’s not a coincidence that this collection of pessimistic essays was written at the end of World War II and the artist chooses to reference this literary work. The neon piece is Jaar’s response to the seventeen-year Pinochet dictatorship, a very dark period in Chilean history.

This is a warning against apathy. It forces us to think about the magnitude of what is possible--of what humanity is capable. Jaar’s artwork commits to enlightening all viewers and on them he places responsibility for action or inaction in times of ethical dilemma.