Essay – Experimental Art

NDA is an edible confidentiality agreement that protects all information exchanged within 30 minutes of ingestion.

“NDA Edible Nondisclosure Agreements” by Rebecca Power

     Rebecca Power’s ‘NDA Edible Nondisclosure Agreements’ is a photo-based conceptual piece that updates the 1970s-ish aesthetics of deadpan documenting of the everyday. Whereas the 1970s featured Martha Rosler’s ‘Semiotics of the Kitchen’, displaying kitchen implements and Rosler miming exaggeratedly aggressive ways they’re used, and Mary Kelly’s ‘Post-Partum Document’ showed the materials of the mother-infant relationship down to the dirty diaper linings, Power’s piece offers a similar neutral documentation with unmistakable marks of our doomed century—excessive plastic packaging, self-dosing for every imaginable problem, non-disclosure agreements, and Q-R (quick response) codes. We’re shown what seem to be packages of two pills, the ingestion of which by both parties in an agreement allegedly enhances the vow of confidentiality on both sides. The backs of eight packages are shown, with only one containing the two pills. So seven non-disclosure agreements have been made. What’s left to hide?

     As with countless other Conceptual pieces from the 1960s through the present, this experimental piece is really an instance of photo-text art that invokes an open-ended play between the realm of language and the visual realm. Each is marked, as if put into scare quotes, so that the element shown is both itself and something indeterminately other; with photo and text together, possible meanings proliferate like a Roman candle going off. Consider first the language: the most prominent element is ‘NDA’. Acronyms seem to pass from unintelligibility to familiarity without ever passing through reflection (‘What does that stand for? Oh, okay, it’s such-and-such). When placed in an artwork, one starts to wonder; for example: Why do so many acronyms end with an ‘A’? It’s as if they fall into two classes, the rebels’ army (the SLA, the IRA) and governmental agencies (the EPA, NASA, the CIA).  Is the ‘A’ of agreement in ‘NDA’ between rebels and the authorities? If so, the piece suggests there’ve been seven agreements so far; there’s only one more chance. Such an interpretation is possible, though very far from compulsory; one realizes that there must be countless equally unlikely interpretations that nonetheless cannot be ruled out.

     As with so much of the world’s art that withholds easy meaningfulness, the viewer can rely upon the thought that of all the possible though improbable interpretations, there is one that is ineliminable: the work is ‘about’ itself, and offers some sense of what the free play of photo and text means to the artist herself. One notices a peculiarity about an NDA, that what the agreement governs may not be revealed, but not that there is such an agreement. An NDA is a secret in public. And so is the piece itself. Those last two pills represent the as yet unsuppressed communication between the artist and her audience. If both parties swallowed the contents of that final package, the work would cease to exist.

— John Rapko