Thursday, June 4, 2009

Through a Mirror Dimmly

I'm back at it!

This evening I visited the Berkeley Art Center to see Co Motion: Video Installation by Cheryl Calleri and Thekla Hammond.

The two artists were present and had a discussion about their collaborative process on the work. They talked about how their common interests in transparency, movement, and the human form had initially caused them to want to work together. However, they soon found extreme differences in method. One is a very message-oriented painter--the other, a very process-oriented collage-maker. It was only after each artist realized how she worked that she was able to compromise and collaborate with the other. A nice story about how in order to understand another we have to understand ourselves, and vice versa.

What really fascinated me, though, was how the community reacted to the installation. The rotating glass panels through which the film is projected have enough space in between them that you can actually walk through as they are turning. The docents at the museum demonstrate this to visitors before the film starts while the house lights are on. But when the docents turn off the lights, start the film, and leave the room, no actually does this. I suspect the reason for this lack of engagement is two-fold: First, when we enter a room with a large screen and chairs, I think most of us go into movie-watching mode and passively stare at the film. Second, in most settings, it's rude to walk in front of a performance that other people are watching.

During the artists' talk, the film was projected three times. Only once, when, immediately before the film started, the audience was explicitly told to stand up and walk around did they actually do so. The experience was wonderful. Walking through the glass panels was extremely disorienting. Because the film appeared both on the glass and the walls of the room, it was difficult to determine what was right in front of you and what was yards away. Also, the previous example of the docent was the only evidence you had that the panels wouldn't rotate in such a way as to squish you. Walking through this visual chaos was nearly an act of faith. The best part was watching the little old ladies help each other through the madness.

In Live Oaks Park across from the art center, someone left this for the world to enjoy:


Elana said...

That looks awesome! Like an artsy house of mirrors or something. I wonder what the potential of a similar setup might be for a live performance...?

Ben Colahan said...

I think you'd encounter similar problems of audience participation. You'd have to be very pro-active in getting your standard theatre-going crowd to get out of their seats.

Of course, if you were doing a site-specific piece where you had audience members already moving around a space in order to view different scenes, it seems like it could work very well.

Elana said...

Yeah, who said there would be seats??

MF Connection said...

Since watching tv for hours makes people notoriously passive, this display is a real step in the right direction. I'm surprised that people didn't immediately want to get up and into the installation and have the full experience. Maybe actors and musicians and dancers have learned that. And your caption is right on. We see the world dimly, if indeed intensely and confusingly, as everything swirls by.