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The Worcester Phoenix, December 15, 2000
Slow Emotion - an encounter with art at the Danforth
By Leon Nigrosh
For those of you who still think that art is about painting pretty pictures, I'm sorry to inform you that it never has been. Even Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1683) and the other Dutch masters brought much more than that to their artworks. Art is - and has always been - about the human condition. Nowhere is this more obvious, and simultaneously more obfuscated, than in AXIS, a series of video sculptures by Brookline artist Denise Marika. With spare settings, minimal projection equipment and a great deal of forethought, Marika compels her viewers to become personally involved with her site-specific installations.
Her Latest installation, coming on the heals of her piece Recoil, recently purchased by the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, is now on view in the main gallery at the Danforth Museum of Art. To best appreciate this new work, don't just rush into the room, but instead take your time. Move slowly into the center of the dimly lit space, allowing the sounds and the shifting projections to envelop you. As your eyes become adjusted to the low light, you will see directly in front of you, along the curved rear wall, a 30-foot long, narrow charcoal drawing that appears to be in a constant state of flux. To your left and right on the far walls, are matching black slate chalkboards on which there are chalk drawings. Projected on top of these images is a video of a crouching nude female figure. The sound of slowly rippling water permeates the room.
Some visitors will wonder, "This is it? I came all this way for this?" These are the people who need to relax, let go, and become part of the experience. Without giving everything away, I can tell you that at certain points during this real time encounter, the visual images and the sound come together in specific incidents of harmony and confluence. Moments later, a jarring conflict occurs, and then the situation continues to unfold. Marika has created the video and sound in an endless loop, so that visitors are free to come and go at will. Her hope is that as people become immersed in this environment, they will be willing to take more time than the average 3.7 seconds most museum visitors spend looking at a work of art. Merely entering the space causes your shadow to break the projection beams, making you an instant intimate participant.
Marika has said, "Real life experiences are so fleeting, we often miss them. Everything happens so fast, we miss the key aspects." With this work, we can (and should) take time to allow the circumstances to sink in. This is not simply a cerebral experience, but a visual one. The video scene appears benign enough, with a woman lolling gently in a morass of undulating seaweed accompanied by the soothing sound of lapping waves. Suddenly an abrupt disturbance in the audio track signals a shift in the emphasis, which happens so fast that, like in real life, you, might miss it if you're not paying attention.
Each of Marika's installations features her self-portrait, nude, in the traditional mode of painting and drawing. The absence of clothing precludes any hierarchy of identity. No clothes equals universality. It is Marika's intentions to portray the universality of the ever-changing human condition, to show the difficult transitions from tranquility through rough periods and the eventual adjustment to the new situation. She shows that vulnerability is not necessarily an invitation to victimization, but can lead to renewed strength, and "that the human spirit can shine through."
By bringing the work of artists such as Marika to Framingham, DMA seeks to stretch the public's expectations and educate them about art. But in doing so, the museum helps further Marika's contention that it is "the artist's obligation to communicate to a broader audience, not just the urban elite." Interestingly, Marika's very next installation will be displayed at the Worcester Art Museum this coming March. At that time she will install a video projection as part of the "Wall at WAM" series. This will present us with a singular opportunity to see the connections between her video sculptures. Visit and experience AXIS at the Danforth now- and make time to see her next piece at WAM early next year.