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The Boston Phoenix, April 22, 1994
Getting personal (and political) at the Fogg
By Beth Wolfensberger
"The feet are very important in my piece. Because, for me, feet are sort of an entry point to the body, and very humble. We always think of the hands or the head and other parts, but I think feet are such a humble way of approaching ourselves and our body. Not in this exhibit, but in another part of the Fogg, on the first floor, there is a wonderful mother-and-child painting in which the Madonna has the Christ child in her arms and is sort of holding his foot with one hand. And it is just beautifully touching."
Denise Marika's work in Power, Pleasure, Pain also speaks to a kind of inheritance and connection, a bond and empathy. Titled After, and the only work in the exhibit not executed on paper, it's a site-specific installation - a color transparency suspended in an old art-museum case with its lid cranked open. The transparency features two nude figures, and, when light hits it, those figures cast a color shadow onto the back of the display case, where the mechanical elements of the case meet in a cross.
Marika has been puzzled that viewers of After (and even reviewers of the exhibit) assume the two nude figures are adult women. They are shown from a very foreshortened perspective, with large feet in the foreground, so it is hard to tell. But if you look carefully at the hand of one of the figures, which is lying along the less of the figure who is clearly an adult female, you can see that it belongs to a child.
"After," Marika says, "refers both to the period after an event, and also to an homage to another work of art: a painting after the style of so-and-so's work." Her inspiration was a pieta dating back to the Renaissance.
"That's the historical side of it," she says. "But this is also about a shared loss, and about the bond between a mother and child. There's a question as to whether the figures are alive, whether some kind of loss has occurred, but the bond remains.
"I put it in the display case," Marika continues, "because I wanted to, to some degree, contain the image. I was interested in the physical pressure the case puts on the image, the relationship between the vulnerability and softness of the human body and the harder, colder, mechanical aspects of the case. I'm really interested in how we as people are affected by the relationship between our own personal vulnerability and the social pressures and physical realities of the world we function in."
By 'we as people' does Marika mean women?
"I don't think so," she says. "I think for me it's really the human vulnerability and strength. To me, there is a strength in vulnerability that we often deny. We tend to think of vulnerability as something that you can't allow yourself, but I think it's a strength."
Like many of the artists in this exhibit, Marika subjects herself to a certain level of vulnerability by serving as her own model in her pieces, exposing herself to the eyes of any viewer.
"I don't think in terms of male/female issues. I think the other work in the exhibit is more directly feminist." she says. "The reason I use my own body in my work is that, through that activity, I learn a lot. I think things through, and aspects of the experience become very real."
When visitors to Power, Pleasure, Pain approach Marika's installation, they sometimes appear confused. The placement of the transparency, together with the light reflecting a second image through it, makes the piece's construction difficult to fathom.
A cluster of viewers will squint at it, bend down to look at it from the side, and then stare up in the direction of the Fogg's ceiling to see if the image is somehow projected from above. In an exhibit in which most observers seem to think they know where the work of women artists is coming from, it's a refreshing thing to watch: puzzled women, puzzled men, tilting their heads and looking for the source.