Artist’s inner turmoil projected on two sides
First you hear the breathing: panting, gasps, sniffles. Sighs of exhaustion. Then you walk into the dimmed exhibition space at the Howard Yeserski Gallery and see the work–that is, the effort – in Denise Marika ‘s “Bisected: Body Projections.” Video projections play out over panels of steel couched in artificial fur on three walls. Each closes in on a nude woman, prone, lifting her head and dropping it over onto a table’s edge.
This is the latest in Marika’s body of sculptural video works, all of which utilize the nude – usually the artist herself – to epitomize the human struggle. In the past, she’s made work that examines effort and endurance through relationship, the task of creation, and the elements. “Bisected” – so named because each video plays on two panels, with a fur seam slicing the figure down the middle – takes Marika’s theme of challenge and survival even deeper. Here, her struggle is with only herself. It’s a powerful installation.
Marika layers dichotomies within “Bisected” that carry her message in content as well as form. The cut down the middle suggests a battle between two sides of the self; it also asserts a modernist grid onto the heart rending narrative, slicing the figure into almost symmetrical halves, demanding that we see the beauty in the contours and colors, the contrast of the dark ground and the pale skin. The soft fur contrasts with the hard steel and suggests an inner conflict between self-loathing and compassion.
You view the women from the head. Two of the videos suggest merely hard, unrelenting work, as she lifts her head again and again from over the table’s edge – in one of these, she lies on her belly, and in the other she lies on her back.
The third video is the coup de grace: This figure, on her back, grabs herself by the hair, lifts and then lets go. Her head drops with a thud to the tabletop. This isn’t just hard work–it’s self-inflicted.
In concert, the three videos mesmerize. The rhythm of the breathing lulls. Then the violence of the third video grabs you and won’t let go –insinuating the bare edge of awareness that while life is hard, to some degree we are our own undoing, putting ourselves through endurance tests because we know no other way to live. Yet there’s hope: In this last video, the seam between the panels widens, and the fur spreads. Softness breaks trough the steel.
This, then, is not just the human drama of endurance, it’s a drama of growth, and it’s Marika’s most compelling work yet.