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Art New England, Aug/Sept 1992
Denise Marika: Projections
By Catherine Mayes
Denise Marika's installation Turn Away was exhibited in the 1990 Boston Center for the Arts Massachusarts exhibition and was acclaimed in the Boston and national critical press as one of the strongest and most provocative works there. In that installation an on-site video recording of Ms. Marika's nude reclining body encased in a coffinlike structure continually turned away from the viewer. The installation provoked multiple readings from viewers, some of whom experienced unease and discomfort while others relished the powerful nature of the piece. Turn Away acknowledged minimal art in its bare structure and in the singular repeated movement of turning away. It also paid homage to video artists like Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman through utilization of the artists body as the medium for the message.
Projections, Ms. Marika's three new video sculptures seem to evolve out of Turn Away and her earlier installations like Pacing, Rocking, and Bathing. In all these pieces a single, mundane, and personal act is recorded and then projected continuously. The three installations forming Projections can also be considered part of a continuing series of self portraits of the artist. Because videotaped images are used, the installations have more of an immediacy and spontaneity than less temporal forms like painting or prints. Consequently, the viewer feels more intrusive - more voyeuristic - resulting in a more ambiguous response to the work.
Conveyor is a row of glass tubes printed with photographs of the artist and her children involved in various activities. The tubes are placed on a conveyor belt on the gallery floor. The photographic text is "activated" when the tubes are rolled by hand. They are also activated in a more subtle way when the viewer walks past them. Within the same exhibition space, metal bars are suspended from the ceiling, and one bar is hung with a raw animal hide. The muscular arms, upper torso, and head of the artist are projected onto this hide in the act of doing pull-ups. We watch Marika as she reaches up, grasps the bar, holds on - her muscles taut and attenuated - and then she drops out of camera range. We hear the sound of her breathing and the sound of her feet hitting the floor again and again. Tension is created in the piece because it simultaneously recalls the myth of Sisyphus and evokes a sense of a task having been successfully completed.
In the smaller room in the back of the gallery, an image of a nude woman, the artist, Caught in the act of bending over and pulling her underpants on, looks back at the viewer. The image appears on a narrow doorlike strip fabricated from a thin rear projection video screen. The color is lifelike in contrast to the gallery walls, and when combined with the direct gaze of the woman the "caught" image seems more self-possessed and defiant than embarrassed or ashamed.
The three works in this exhibition present a complex, strong, and authentic image of woman. They help exorcise some of the horizontal, flaccid images of women we have grown accustomed to in the history of art and popular culture.