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The Boston Sunday Globe, November 13, 1994
'Video sculptor' lights up Gardner
By Christine Temin
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The 39-year-old Marika, who is artist-in-residence at the Gardner Museum this fall and whose Gardner show has just opened, wrestles with the notion of public vs. private all the time, most famously in "Crossing," a controversial temporary public art work she installed at a busy intersection in Brookline last spring. "Crossing" took the form of conventional crosswalk signals, but instead of the "Walk" and "Don't Walk" commands, there were images of a nude woman grasping an equally nude child, as if to keep the toddler from bolting into the street. Marika, who lives in Brookline with her son, daughter and pediatrician husband, made "Crossing" because "I wanted to do a public-art piece in my own community."
No matter that the nudity was so discreet you couldn't tell the sex of the child. No matter that passing buses sported ads for Calvin Klein's Obsession perfume that were far more provocative than Marika's image of maternal caution. The fact that mother and child weren't wearing clothes, and that they were out in the street rather than in a museum, bugged some people. One woman even attacked "Crossing" with a hammer. Marika, whose children volunteer to appear in her work and who has her studio at home "because I want to be here for my kids," also came in for some of the what-are-you-doing-to-your-children criticism that dogs Sally Mann, whose nude photographs of her children rnake some people intensely uncomfortable
"I was afraid my kids would get teased about 'Crossing,"' says Marika, "but they weren't. Kids don't find nudity dirty or negative. It's just a body to them." What nudity is to Marika is neutrality: Clothing pins down social status, self-image and other factors; nudity is universal and classical. Nudity also creates a sense of vulnerability, which Marika often accents by juxtaposing the softness of human flesh with the hardness, coldness and even cruelty of architecture and technology. In her "Battle," a video of a wrangling man and woman is projected onto a steel I-beam. In "Turn Away," a video of a woman who constantly rolls away from the viewer -- as if avoiding the advances of a lover -- is confined to a copper drawer.
. . . . By the time she was in graduate school at UCLA . . . she had switched to making videos of repetitive, ordinary activities like ramming an object or taking a bath. She performed the activities herself, for hours on end. Sometimes they were extremely strenuous: in "Hang," she jumps and hangs from a horizontal bar, an activity even this trim, fit artist could keep up for only 15 minutes or so. She sees her videos as intensely personal communications. "In live performance," she says, "I felt a distance between performer and audience, which prevented intimacy."
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"Life keeps us apart from each other," she laments. "There is a fear of coming close, and that paralyzes countries as well as individuals. You walk down the street and there is someone sleeping on the sidewalk. You pass by without responding. That is a very disturbing missed contact."
The repetition in her work allows people to absorb her images and gestures, she believes, to take them home in their heads and think about them. "Everyone has images they keep: your child being born, a family member dying." Marika mentions her own lasting memory of "my newborn daughter lifting up her head as if to say, 'I'm here.'" Not all the images are positive. A piece called "Face to Face" relies on Marika's childhood memory of having her face yanked from one side to the other by an adult, the gesture that goes with the words "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" In "Face to Face" the gesture occurs over and over. "Video," says the artist, "draws out those moments and allows you to think about them."
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