Video Work | Photo/Installations | Documentary Projects

Art in America, February 1991
Denise Marika at Stux

By Richard Kalina

Denise Marika is an artist who operates in the highly charged space between video and sculpture. This field, already successfully worked by Bruce Nauman, among others, has much to offer. Since both sculpture and video can achieve powerful effects by juxtaposing the literal and the referential, their synergistic yield is naturally inviting. Of course, the intellectual and emotional risk of combining them is commensurately increased. The unwary practitioner can easily make work that is at once overly clever and manipulative. The single large piece that Denise Marika showed at Stux this fall avoided these traps, however, and the result was as engaging as it was unsettling.
Titled Turn Away, Marika's installation consisted of a raw plywood box, 20 feet long by 8 feet high, open on one end. This box which recalled Donald Judd's sculpture, was a sort of room, and viewers realized, after some initial hesitation, that it was meant to be entered. At the far end of the box was another Minimalist reference, an inset drawer of polished, reflective copper, approximately 1' by 5' by 4 feet in dimension. Video-projected on the rear wall of the drawer was the life-size image of a nude woman. The woman lay on her side, knees slightly bent, filling the space. Her head touched one end of the drawer, and her feet the other, with barely enough room for her shoulders.
In a fast-moving looped sequence, the woman faced us, opened her eyes a bit to make a quick connection and then, a moment later, abruptly rolled over and turned her back. The action was continually repeated, setting up an almost hypnotic rhythm of invitation and rejection, of vulnerability and control. In addition, making the physical and emotional position of the viewer even more equivocal, rollers had been attached to the drawer: you could pull it toward you - without, needless to say, bringing the woman closer. The drawer felt cramped, cold and coffinlike, and the way it could be pulled out made the viewer feel oddly like a visitor to a morgue, called there to identify a body.
Upon further examination, the piece yielded still more in the way of displacement, alienation and anxiety. There were numerous marks and discolorations on the wall of the drawer, and it became clear that they were footprints, that the video had been shot onsite. In addition, the projection wall consisted of three video screens, separated by two bands of copper. The images on each screen, while shot separately, gave the impression of being fused with the others, somewhat imperfectly, into a whole: they were just a bit out of sync. The result was uncanny. The viewer could sense something wrong, but the disjunction remained more or less subliminal; indeed, some visitors to the gallery were convinced that there were two figures on view here, a man and a woman, somehow superimposed.
This piece is a complex and evocative one, and comparisons can be drawn with Nauman's work. Although dealing with similar ideas about ritualized confinement and repression, Marika shows little of Nauman's unpredictability and barely contained hysteria. Her work is quieter, more elegant, yet undiminished in its affective power. She has managed to go beyond the literary, the overtly psychological, to create something perhaps more difficult - a sculptural amalgam which loses nothing of its emotional immediacy.