|Art New England, April / May 2000
Denise Marika/Video Works
Sculpture and Media join in a seamless alliance in the video projects of Boston artist Denise Marika. With recent installations at the Montserrat Gallery in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston, a solo exhibition coming in November at Framingham’s Danforth Art Museum, and installations currently on view at MASS MoCA and the DeCordova Museum of Art, in Lincoln, Massachusetts, Marika is receiving significant attention. It is easy to see why. At once ingenious, beautiful, quirky, and mysterious, her video installations startle, at first, because of the projection surfaces she uses: stone benches, steel I-beams, crosswalk signals, to name a few. It is often said that media images clutter our lives. Marika takes this truism a step further, inserting images even beyond where we expect to find them.
Turn Away (1990), at MASS MoCA through May 5, is an eerie and somber meditation (all her works are meditations) on confinement and loss of self. Viewers enter a plain plywood box, a kind of makeshift mortuary, that contains a long copper drawer with an open front embedded in the far wall. Handles invite viewers to pull the drawer out and peer inside, where a video of a nude woman is projected onto the back of the drawer. She is lying on her side, trapped head to toe inside the drawer. She stares for a second at the onlookers, then moves, doing complete turnarounds in the cramped space. While there may be some relief that she is at least alive, the video medium suggests an endless reminder of this hapless woman’s fate: to be buried alive in full view of a steady stream of helpless voyeurs.
Marika does not leave much room for humor. More like Poe than Beckett, two poets of death, she chooses to confront the viewer with terror, even when she does so quietly. After (1994), in which projected images of the lifeless bodies of a woman and her daughter seem to float inside an antique museum display case, freezes a moment in time, embossing it with a sadness that will not go away.
Not all of her work focuses on last breaths, happily. For relief she provides vivid encounters between men and women, often engaged in battles for control. Remember, humor is not her concern. In Battle (1993-1994), two lifesize nudes are projected onto the inner web of an industrial steel I-beam. They wrestle, trying to remain upright, but they seem ready to topple off the beam at any minute. The physicality of her scenario recalls the performance videos of Bruce Nauman and the team of Marina Abramovic and Ulay, though Marika’s inquiries are less conceptual. In her videos of couples she prefers direct encounters with the tensions between the sexes.
In very recent work Marika has been experimenting with rapid prototype technology that can duplicate scanned images of any form in three-dimensional sculpture. Artist Michael Rees is perhaps best known for exploiting this new tool. In Recoil (1999), which is being shown at The DeCordova Museum from March 25 through April 30, Marika projects an image of a crouched, naked woman into a four-foot steel bowl. She is filmed trying to dodge hard objects (actually brittle statuettes of her own body produced via rapid prototype) being tossed at her in real time from above. An isolation chamber appears to be the fate of another of Marika’s heroines.
All of her work is produced elegantly, which suggests that, beneath the technology and the novelty, Marika’s principle concerns – beauty and form – are deeply classical.