The Boston Globe, May 6, 2005
By Cate McQuaid,
Walk into the darkened gallery, and the first thing you hear is the crunch and rumble of demolition. Then you see it, on a large screen framed with stainless steel: a lunging crane, tearing apart a building. And moving slowly over the center in a double exposure, crouched into a heart shape and viewed from above, is the nude body of a woman.
That woman is artist Denise Marika; the video installation is her latest, ''Detritus," up at Howard Yezerski Gallery. Marika has for years used her body to represent the essence of fleshly struggle and endurance. This new, multilayered and poetic work is riveting. The figure holds herself in a fetal position, rubbing ash over her body. Around her the crane crushes the building. She's oblivious to the destruction. Yet there's sorrow and solace about her ritualistic use of the ash.
Marika usually puts her work on a loop; watch it long enough, and you'll see the repetition. That has made the struggles she depicts endless, but also mechanical. ''Detritus," though, is 40 minutes long, and so the drama feels even more real and compelling. Visually, the work is stunning. The artist apparently coated her lens with ash, imbuing the entire image with a stippled texture. Because of that and the layered images, the video projection looks painterly and ineffable, a quality played up by the contrast to its industrial-looking frame. A mirror on the floor opens up a gully of light that is both attractive and frightening.
''Gnaw," a second video, is a more intimate experience. It screens on a 14-inch monitor, so the viewer must get close. Here, we see the face of a woman buried in the ground. That's chilling enough, until you see her placidly chewing on the earth, as if she's eating her way out. Marika always balances steely grit with the vulnerability of suffering, spelling out a human story. ''Gnaw" is more animal than human, because the woman is so implacable, and because while the setup invites eye contact, the woman avoids it. It's beautifully unnerving.