Video Work | Photo/Installations | Documentary Projects

Art New England, August/September, 2003
Bisected: A video Installation By Denise Marika

By Barbara O'Brien

To test the limits of the body and the psyche, Denise Marika returns again to the order of geometry, the certainty of gravity, and the solace of art. The video installation Bisected is a visceral experience, and one not for the faint of heart. In earlier works Marika was engaged in choreographed duets where there was an actual or an implied partner for the actions. Here, she is painfully alone.

Each of the three units, which form an alcove in the gallery, show Marika in a duration performance created while in residence at the MacDowell Colony. The tri-part video projection visually isolates Marika’s head and upper torso. She appears as a truncated form in a space as seemingly neutral as the gallery in which the work was shown. Marika is prone, and the camera, seemingly placed on the floor, is focused on the top of her head. Each projection is a distinct action that has a duration of several minutes.

I went away from the Yezerki gallery with a memory of the sound track; the persistent dull thump of Marika’s  head dropping against the floor; suppressed tears manifested as throaty gasps for air; moments of quiet after which the images of self-inflicted pain and my own sense of dread would begin again.

The picture plane is divided vertically into two perfectly balance rectangles by short tufts of fur that create a border around the metallic surface onto which the images are projected. The fur is mottled brown tinged with gray, white, blond, and auburn–human and animal, natural and synthetic. It functions formally to keep the projected image from falling sharply onto the wall, and it functions viscerally to remind us that we are looking at the remains of a life’s activity, Casting a soft shadow, the fur creates an environment, enclosure, or border on which the work exists. It emerges like hair from the public regions of the drying pelt of a spent animal.

The mood of Bisected is as relentless as the physical activity that Marika undertakes. She pulls her own head off the floor by using her hair as a winch. After her head fall back down to the floor, she smoothes her hair back down with her hands before taking two tufts and pulling sharply upward. Holding her head aloft for a few seconds, she releases her grasp and gravity has its way. The floor becomes the earth, and the inevitability of natural forces working against the body comes into poetic play. Sometimes there is a gesture of relief as she rubs the top of her head, soothing the bruised area. But we are misled; the open palm that once rubbed the crown now closes into a grasping gesture. The head is pulled upward by the roots of the hair, as the head arcs upward, her hands release the hair and the head hits the floor. This gesture is repeated three times in quick succession and the time between the head hitting the floor shortens.

I feel my pulse quicken and then slow with each action. Bisected is not a mirror of life but a poetic rendering of the struggle to create art in the midst of a life lived.