|| Artforum, March 1995
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
An artist-in-residence at the Gardner Museum, Denise Marika contributed three new slide and video projections that addressed issues of vulnerability, control, and the private versus the public. Two of the three works, which could only be projected between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00 P.M. (because of a stipulation in Mrs. Gardner’s will), became part of the architecture in the great central Garden court of the Museum, while the third was installed in a special room recently constructed for temporary exhibitions. Although based on current video, light, and laser technology, the images in the courtyard had a timeless aura that belied their contemporaneity.
In the inner court of the museum a glass atrium houses a garden. Eight balconies from Venice, stone fragments from medieval churches, Roman mosaics and sarcophagi fill this space that has remained unchanged since Gardner’s death in 1924. To place new, controversial art in the sacred heart of this monument to the past takes great subtlety and courage. By their very nature as light projections, Marika’s works are evanescent and intangible; the LCD and slide projectors were so well hidden that the images had a phantasmagoric quality.
For Nameless, 1994, Marika chose a quartet of concrete benches on the perimeter of the courtyard as the “canvas” for her photo projections. Viewers entering the north cloister came upon four anonymous naked men and women curled or stretched out beneath the benches. Each lifesize body, contorted to fit the rectangular space, was projected onto the gritty concrete beneath a heavy slab. These figures were intended to represent homeless people who had come in off the street in search of shelter. Comprised of images of 25 people of various races and both genders, the figures were never identifiable as particular individuals. Heroic in scale and design, these photo-projections were actually too sumptuous to evoke the gritty realities of homelessness and seemed as ageless as the stylobate, Romanesque lions from a demolished church in Florence.
In Animal, 1994, the artist projected a pair of continuously moving video images of her own body onto two marble Corinthian columns in the east cloister that suggested the neurotic repetitive movement of a caged-in animal. The video, based on a childhood recollection of an aged lion in a very tiny cage, consisted of two 30-minute laser discs of Marika, nude, prowling back and forth. Through a very narrow aperture, the viewer-voyeur could witness her activities projected on each column.
Hug, 1994, was the most hard-edged and confrontational of the three works. Projected video images of the neck, shoulders, and chest of a woman (Marika, being held from behind by a man [husband Michael]) filled a graduated aluminum shaft constructed by the artist. The striated aluminum bar spanned the rust-colored special exhibition space, barring entry. The 30-minute video depicted a woman alternately struggling with and accepting the physically controlling embrace of the man who hugged her from behind, held her tightly, and restricted her movements. Seen through a horizontal crack in the door, Hug posed questions about who is in control, who occupies a position of power –an issue as germane to the museum world as it is to private life.