May 1, 2006

What He Really Wants To Do Is Not Direct

oe_uncertain_museum.jpgWhile he's been actively posing questions about vision and perception and exploring the relationship between the seen/felt/experienced and reality, I've still had a sense of Olafur Eliasson as a sculptural artist. That object/space/experience thing.

And I mean that, even though it's photographs looming over my shoulder as I type this, not stainless steel artichoke-shaped kaleidoscopic pavilions.

But after seeing his new show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery over the weekend, Hal Foster's phrase "cinematic delirium" stuck in my mind. Foster used it to describe the types of video art where the projected image washes over you.

Because that's what happens in Eliasson's show, over and over. Except there's no image, exactly. Or at least, there's no content. I think.

Upstairs is a giant, multi-faceted chandelier casting discoball-like patterns across the space, and a blackout room with a dim arrow flickering in a circle. It's actually a cam--wait, if I tell you, is it like spoiling the end of a film?

The exhibition itself is called, "Your engagement sequence," the artist's coinage for the viewer's experience of seeing and experiencing the work. It's a notion that architects and exhibition designers--and theme park and real estate developers, for that matter--are familiar with, but it's also similar to the narrative arc of a film or theatrical work. Here, the idea is that the sequence is the responsibility or contribution of the viewer as much as it is the plan of the gallery or the installation of the artist.

So that said, what you [probably actually] see first is the [new] first floor where a large now-familiar circular structure/chamber (gorgeous construction visible, of course) beckons. Inside is a 360-degree horizon line reflected from a pool in the center; the water's movement is concentrated into the undulating line of light on the wall, and on the spectators surrounding the pool.


duchamp_rotary_glass_plates.jpgDirectors make dramatic cinematic use of such artificially produced reflected water effects all the time, I realize. But here, it's isolated and concentrated and all its own, not in the service of any particular emotion or mood or narrative. Right?

Behind this piece is a 2004 piece titled, The Uncertain Museum in which the shadows and reflections of four target-like mirrors dance across (and inside) a circular scrim.

Seeing the turning bull's eye projection, I'm immediately reminded of the Dada exhibit, where Duchamp's, Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics) [left], made with Man Ray's help, creates illusory bull's eyes with spinning glass plates on an exposed-for-all-to-see armature. And of course, there are the hypnotic spirals of his Anemic Cinema, too, which closes the show.

Suddenly the whole traumatized geopolitical landscape and context of Dada comes roaring in, and I find myself standing in the middle of this cinematic spectacle and wondering who, exactly, is doing the projecting?

Tanya Bonakdar Gallery [tanyabonakdargallery.com]
The Essential Dada - Marcel Duchamp, AnÈmic CinÈma [chello.nl/j.seegers1]

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

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first published: May 1, 2006.

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