The Salem Evening News, October, 1999
Spying eyes look at real life
By Julia Fairclough
BEVERLY - The viewer is the voyeur who happens upon a naked couple embracing or a woman changing in a department store dressing room at this month's exhibit at Montserrat College of Art.
"Photographic Works by Merry Alpern and Denise Marika" opened last week and runs to Oct. 30 in the college's gallery at 23 Essex St.
Both artists appear in their own photographs. Neither stands behind the camera, which lends to unique, unrestricted points of view.
For Alpern's "Shopping" series, the New York City artist hid a video camera in her purse to create images that document the public and private rituals of the shopping experience.
Marika, a video installation artist from Brookline, uses herself as the model and then shapes the images into three-dimensional forms. Her installations study the relationship between men and women through gestures and slice-of-life images - all of which makes the viewer feel as if he or she is spying.
Because of the complex subject matter and issues raised by the works, the show will be held in conjunction with a symposium, "Informed Consent: Privacy and Voyeurism in the Visual Arts" on Friday, Oct. 22, from 2 to 5 p.m. at 292 Cabot St.
The artists will speak and reflect on their own work and the larger issues raised regarding the meaning and manner of contemporary photography, said Montserrat curator Barbara O'Brien, who invited the artists to exhibit. Montserrat faculty member Ethan Berry will also speak.
Marika's work includes a floor piece, "Conveyor," which spans 18 feet with transparent photos of Marika and her children in glass cylinders. The interactive sculpture is placed on an industrial conveyor belt. The images are not revealed until the viewer spins the belt, which gives an image of time passing as the spectator moves across the images.
Her "Battle Photo Series" presents photographic slices of nude bodies of a man and woman placed into the grooves of seven steel I-beams. The activity moves between threatening and loving gestures and it is the progression of photos that creates the whole image.
Another piece, "Hug," entails three images enclosed by steel strips. The arresting piece in which a nude man and woman alternate between embrace and combat elicits the feeling that the viewer has happened on a private encounter, as they only see a 12-inch slice of their bodies.
"It's like looking in the crack of a door," O'Brien said. "It is associated with a thrill. It makes the viewer wonder what it is they are not seeing."
Marika said her work embodies relationship issues and personal moments that one does not always take the time to examine. She uses herself as a model, she says, because the best way to understand a situation is to put herself into it. She sets up the tripod and lets the situation unfold.
"I do the performance until it is no longer a performed act but a real situation," she said. "It is interesting that people are so interested in the fact that it is me. But that is less important than the fact that people can relate to the situation themselves and that it is something they either witnessed or experienced."
An eye on shoppers
Alpern's "Shopping" series includes photos from her book, "Shopping" (Scalo Publishers, New York) that came out two months ago. Often during the pensive moments in her life, Alpern would use the act of shopping as an escape, she explains.
A piece showing the back of a man's head as he looks at two women is shot in a distorted view. It brings into question a voyeuristic element. Others, feature women in a dressing room trying on clothes in yet another interesting floor-up view.
The angles are unique because the photos came from the surveillance camera inside Alpern's camera. She did not determine each photograph but picked them from hours of Film that she converted into still shots. Because of that the pictures have a blurry quality.
"Because I was in the stores w much, it looked into an idea of thinking about behaviors and bringing a camera with me," Alpern said. "The camera is a way to study things much closer and really taking a look at things."
An issue discussed in her book is the legality of the shots. If sound is not being recorded the taping of images is allowed, Alpern said. She avoided using any recognizable faces aside from her own.
"My intent is not to identify or embarrass people," she said. "I don't think of any of these as surveillance photos. Surveillance is spying and capturing. 'Shopping' is not that." Both artists have received national attention for their provocative use of photographic forms.