Three people who entered the room-sized art exhibition ZEE (by Austrian artist Kurt Hentschlager) at a Pittsburgh gallery this weekend had seizures. ZEE is described in its waiver as “intense stroboscopic light in combination with thick artificial fog, resulting in a loss of spatial orientation.” People with pacemakers, respiratory problems and epilepsy are discouraged from entering. The gallery (943 Liberty Avenue) is owned and operated by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust which prides itself on transforming its “downtrodden Downtown into a world-class Cultural District,” and has funded ZEE three times (2008, 2009, 2013) in Steel City. The Trust’s spokeswoman Shaunda Miles has reportedly said the past exhibitions had similar seizure-like issues.
ZEE is designed to shock the psyche and senses. In 2008, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker wrote: “the strobe light and drubbing sound that pervade the fog overwhelm all other sensations, and even memory, inducing an almost sickening sense of imprisonment in immediacy.” The seven people who were hospitalized after suffering seizures while experiencing Zee this summer at the Dark MOFO festival in Hobart, Tasmania, would probably agree. After the illnesses, the artist was asked to make changes to the installation (i.e. slow down the “response rate”). The future of ZEE in Pittsburgh (scheduled to be on view until October 27) is in limbo. After all the press attention, the Trust’s spokeswoman backpedaled and told her local paper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that she didn’t know if seizures took place during the 2008 and 2009 ZEE exhibitions. How’s that for pentimento?