In this landmark work from SFMOMA’s media arts collection, Doug Hall traverses the technologically mediated modern landscape in pursuit of what he calls a “technological sublime.” The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described (1987) incorporates multiple channels of video showing extreme weather and industrial machines into a large-scale sculptural installation that features a functioning Tesla coil. The coil’s unexpected flashes of artificial lightning jolt viewers into a sudden awareness of their own vulnerable presence amid the turbulent stream of media images — the rupture, in Hall’s words, “between the world as representation and the world as fact.” This presentation at the San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter and McBean Galleries marks the first time The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described has been seen in the Bay Area since it was last presented by SFMOMA in 1989. More than 25 years later, at a time when the boundaries between physical experience and the media landscape are even more uncertain, Hall’s work is still electrifying.
The exhibition is jointly curated by Hesse McGraw, vice president for exhibitions and public programs at SFAI, and Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA and visiting faculty at SFAI. Hall is professor emeritus at SFAI, where he taught from 1980 until 2008.
Doug Hall: The Terrible Uncertainty of the Thing Described is jointly organized by the San Francisco Art Institute and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Generous support is provided by Linda and Jon Gruber and Joachim and Nancy Hellman Bechtle. Additional support is provided by Pamela and Richard Kramlich.