Silence Speaks Volumes in Newsworthy Exhibit

Assistant professor Thomas Albrecht performs "News/Print" at the SDMA
Assistant Professor Thomas Albrecht performs "News/Print" at the SDMA

A man comes into the room. It’s quiet. No one speaks to him and he refuses to make contact or interact with anyone. He puts on a white dress shirt, which has been hanging on a coat hanger. He takes a seat next to a pile of newspapers. He reads them one by one, capturing each detail, all without acknowledging the audience. He puts down the newspaper and wipes his hands on his white shirt. He then walks out of the room, still not interacting with others around him.

This scene, titled “News/Print,” is regularly performed right here at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art (SDMA) by SUNY New Paltz Assistant Art Professor Thomas Albrecht.

After each performance, the white shirt used by Albrecht is not cleaned and has slowly begun to darken with ink.

“In the beginning of the exhibition, the shirt was immaculate, brand new white, starch,” Albrecht said. “Now over the course of several months, every single day the ink being transferred from the reading of the newspaper has really made the shirt noticeably dirty and stained.”

Albrecht said the piece mirrored a very significant relationship between citizens and how they absorb the news.

“Through our interaction with the news on a regular basis, we sort of bear the stain of the images and the text that we encounter,” he said. “We can’t necessarily rid ourselves of that interaction or experience and it accumulates in our lives.”

Albrecht’s work has been shown in galleries and museums throughout the United States and Europe. According to Albrecht, the hour long piece originated at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007. Three years later, Albrecht decided to bring his performance to New Paltz audiences.

For first-year undeclared student Samantha Schiffman, Albrecht’s vision initially left her feeling puzzled.

“When I first saw the performance, I thought it was just a guy in a chair,” she said. “I definitely respect it more because it is art and the performance is definitely thought-provoking.”

As a gallery assistant at the SDMA, she said she viewed the piece almost every single day, which helped her build a better understanding of its thematic content.

Schiffman said, even with multiple viewings, the silence within the scene still feels strange and may be difficult for first-time viewers.

“It definitely makes it awkward, especially since I work here,” she said. “People are used to contact and interaction with [others], especially when you are alone in the room with them.”

Albrecht said his methods create an atmosphere where he is able to speak to the audience through his actions and not his voice.

While doing his silent performance, Albrecht said he experienced many humorous situations and happenings.

“People on a regular basis ask me questions while I’m reading the paper, but I don’t interact,” he said. “It’s meant to be a performance, and in that, I don’t engage with the people. Oftentimes that causes some frustration with people, but it’s meant to present the solitary nature in which we encounter the news.”

From 3 to 4 p.m. at the SDMA, “News/Print” runs almost daily and will continue until its final show on Nov. 14.