Video Work | Photo/Installations | Documentary Projects

The Danforth Museum of ART, Dec-Jan 2000

by David Bliss

"Measurement is a recent invention. Before the Middle Ages we counted discrete objects, but we did not measure phenomena. We lived in a qualified world, not the quantified world of today. The first graph was made by artists; musician monks who invented the musical staff, an axis on which they plotted pitch over time. For five hundred years, mathematicians ignored this advance. It was not until the eighteenth century that the axis was used to plot other phenomena.

Denise Marika's Axis is a video sculpture. It relates to elements of measurement, position, water and breath. The work fills the space with three images. Two large slate blackboards with faint chalk drawings are on either side of the gallery. The image of a woman crouched in a tidal pool, shot from above, is projected on them. The expressionist drawing on the chalkboard is the same image faintly showing through. Every few minutes, the orientation of the figures change. One moves clockkwise and the other counterclockwise. The variation is intensified by its relation to the drawing underneath. The angular direction measured from one position to another might be compass points, time or degrees. The figures act as the measurement of change. Axis is about how we position and reposition ourselves in the world. At each turn of the body we hear the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. Repositioning is painful.

The largest image is a narrow band, a charcoal drawing on which is projected a close up view of seaweed in a tidal pool. Who has not leaned over a tidal pool and regarded the gentle in and out of sea and weeds as a form of breathing? It is like the respiration of the sea. We find ourselves breathing in measurement to it. The first measurement we make is with our breath, timing our days, breathing in and out. The word 'inspire' means both to breathe and influence.

The point at which all of Denise Marika's video sculpture begins is with the gesture. She builds a simple human movement into a space as a sculptural form, taking it out of the moment and giving it a universal depth and meaning. Along with slate and chalk, she sculpts with light and motion. Out of these materials, she created work that has a fundamental resonance. The human images, with which she builds her spaces, go beyond reflections of classical art. Her projected figures often appear naked rather than nude. While not defenseless, they are unprotected. They have no choice and no control over their position or their activity. Yet they shield themselves with endurance and emotion. This is, perhaps, the quantity that Axis measures. These positions are the incremental measurement of endurance and this motion is the inspiration for our transitions."