Off the Wall: In the Absence of a Path

By Emily Conklin, Staff Writer

University students are well acquainted with the idea of searching for a prescribed pathway, and the struggles it takes to not stray outside the lines. In college, the vast universe of options available and their infinite implications on one’s future is an overwhelming weight. This fear and uncertainty, the quest to find success with a definition that no one can comprehend, is the challenge that the NYU Steinhardt artists faced in their artworks comprising “In The Absence of a Path.”  

We go through our lives flitting in and out of the states of past, present, and future, yet college students in particular spend much of their time wallowing in the worries of their paths for the future. Deciding which classes, which major, which internship, and which jobs will be the best roadmap to follow is a daunting and nearly impossible task, and while every NYU student is facing similar pressures, it can be hard to find support and familiarity as we attempt to maintain a calm and collected surface. This, however, is why navigating “In the Absence of a Path” in the Rosenberg Gallery is like taking a breath of fresh air.

The artists’ representations of this pressure to find the right path culminated in works of every medium expressing emotions ranging from rage to release. Artworks explore themes of self-doubt and insecurity, loss, getting lost, and self-love. Sheer curtains shimmering like a mirage in the soft light of the Barney building subtly reveal their hand-stitched words, “but,” “if,” “yet,” as viewers walk through. Layers of neon glass contain fragments of typed words and phrases held together clumsily by rusting paper clips. Heavy ceramic pieces have cracked, yet are held together like a quilt by the thinnest silken threads. Graphic posters assert “I’m bad and that’s good.”

The gallery is a winding labyrinth, with each corner offering a surprise, a new angle, a different light. The viewer meanders at a calm and calculated pace through the aged space, taking in its musty scent and fresh white walls amidst the artworks. There is no specific direction to be taken “In The Absence of a Path,” and that’s okay: despite the societal constraints leading students and young people towards ideals of uniformity, control and practicality, the best of life’s moments and successes often occur when we find the ability to let go, to part the curtain and ignore the nagging words inside our heads.

Your best path may be a path less traveled, one never before traveled, or one not even yet created. The atmosphere of calm and acceptance that the exhibition curates rejects the stresses of university and modern life. Art like this is therapeutic, and the path that lead me here was one I could never have planned on following.

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