Curator Liz Blum conceived of “I Dread to Think . . .” two years ago — before the primaries, before the election. Now our new president is tweeting that “many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country.”
The exhibition, at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery through March 19, is not an anxious shriek or the art-gallery equivalent of a horror film. Rather, Blum’s 13 artists examine fear: its relative basis in reality and the way it can go viral in society.
Where alarm is expressed — in Nicole Maloof’s terrific drawing on digital print, “‘I See White People,’” like a microscope slide squirming with amorphous white faces; in Damien Hoar de Galvan’s “Something could happen at any moment,” an endearing installation of ungainly small sculptures reeking of neuroses — it is contained, presented for contemplation.
Blum offers several ways to think reasonably about dread rather than just react to it. Susanna Hertrich’s poster series “RISK” uses graphics to quantify fear and weigh it against reality. One of the posters, “Risk Perception and Actual Hazards,” illustrates that public anxiety about a potential terrorist attack dwarfs any likelihood of such an attack occurring.
Some works, though, spring squarely from justifiable anxiety, like Lucas Pope’s sadly pertinent video game “Papers Please.” The viewer plays a border officer, and gets to decide who comes in and who stays out.
Fear often boils down to our own fragility and mortality. A small town in Norway that has banned dying (bodies don’t decompose properly in the frozen graveyard) inspired Will Gill’s strange, unearthly video “No Man’s Land.” In the fractured tale, we follow a gray figure — a ghost perhaps? a corpse? — through a desolate landscape, and a bald, nude figure, certainly dead, bobbing amid ice in the Arctic Ocean.
As much as it’s about mortality, “No Man’s Land” poignantly expresses loneliness. Fear isolates us. Blum suggests the more we investigate it, the less alone we will feel.
I DREAD TO THINK . . .
At Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through March 19. 617-426-5000, www.bcaonline.org
Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid
@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.