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  • Rainey Knudson

Jacolby Satterwhite: Better at the MFAH (285 words)

Last fall the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York commissioned A Metta Prayer, a massive 4-channel video by the artist Jacolby Satterwhite. Unfortunately, it was hard to see at the Met—the videos were screened in the museum's voluminous neoclassical lobby and they partially projected on top of people's heads. You got the sense that there was something video gamey going on, with some self-helpish kind of text, but it didn't really register in the crowded, buzzing lobby with a long coat check line. I didn't even realize the videos had sound.

Now A Metta Prayer is installed in the mezzanine of the Law Building at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, until November 10, 2024. I saw them there yesterday, and the viewing conditions at the MFAH are vastly preferable, not only because there were far fewer people in the space. The videos are also projected onto blank white walls, not stone (or tourists' heads), so there is no surface visual interference with the imagery. And the sound component, which was a pleasant surprise, is critical. A disembodied voice backed by singers and electronic beats reads along with the text, utterly transforming what was a fairly dry viewing experience.

"Metta" is a Pali word most often translated as "loving-kindness" in English. Metta prayer and meditation involves cultivating compassion and goodwill towards others and oneself. Satterwhite's text is loving and kind, but also occasionally humorous. The jittery imagery includes digital video game avatars running through crowded street scenes and low-res abstract environments, as well as real humans dancing and enacting what appear to be elaborate rituals. It's a marriage of heaven and hell, overwhelming and sublime. Feels very much of our time. Good piece.


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