An art show about shrugs? Sure.

Allison Cekala’s “How to Shrug”
Allison Cekala’s “How to Shrug”

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (THE SHRUG SHOW)

At Dorchester Art Project, 1486 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, through July 9.

Who cares?

I don’t know.


It’s confusing.

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Your call.


The emoticon, made of punctuation and diacritical marks from several languages, is impossible to type on standard, English-language keyboards. People use it worldwide, cutting and pasting. It has become a universal shorthand for “whatever.”

It turns out apathy and puzzlement make for a pithy, bittersweet exhibition. “¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (The Shrug Show),” at Dorchester Art Project, is tongue in cheek, but its skewed humor has an undercurrent of pathos. (The exhibition is open by appointment: e-mail


Tim McCool’s “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” cartoonishly fleshes out the emoticon with a happy-face emoji and the muscular arms of a body builder, recalling the iconic Charles Atlas ad in which a skinny guy, humiliated by a hunk at the beach, takes up Atlas’s body-building routine. McCool’s grinning emoji puts forth a mighty façade, but is the weakling still there, cowering behind those cool shades?

Bodybuilders dominate Allison Cekala’s cheekily existential video, “How to Shrug.” Cekala searched YouTube for “shrug,” and found weightlifters, yogis, and a bizarre assortment of people shrugging. The quick-cut video is like a choir; one part sings “Hey, look at me!” as another harmonizes “We don’t care.” The repetition makes the noncommittal gesture strangely emphatic.

“The Absolute Wrong Thing,” Samara Pearlstein’s installation of sculptures, drawings, and paintings, captures the emoticon’s disaffection and confusion. Everything is wrong. The baseball in “The Wrong Ball,” looks deflated — but there’s no air in baseballs. Taken together, the “Wrong” works hit a dissonant chord — it’s art’s equivalent to poor old Charlie Brown, yet it’s defiant about its wrongness.

Other pieces, such as Julie Weaver’s haunted painting turning nowhere into somewhere, and Gianna Stewart’s cast plastic water bottles (“Halves Full” — or are they halves empty?) take a more sidelong approach, but all the work suggests that behind every shrug, there’s a lot more going on than uninterest.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.