In a Distant Temporal Realm: Mary Lucier at the Kitchen
Mary Lucier at the Kitchen
January 7 through February 27, 2016
512 West 19th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, (212) 255-5793
Mary Lucier, who has long worked at the intersection of music and the visual arts, weaves together past and present for her current video installations at the Kitchen, which is marking its forty-fifth anniversary with a series of events and exhibitions. Color Phantoms with Automatic Writing commemorates Lucier’s friend and collaborator, composer Robert Ashley, who died in 2014 and whose production with choreographer Steve Paxton, Quicksand, was concurrently featured on the Kitchen’s stage earlier this month. Revisiting works going back to 1971, Lucier draws on editing techniques of layering and displacement to provide an elegant frame for the Kitchen’s celebration of multimedia research.
Lucier literally introduces the Kitchen’s current programs, with a four-channel work in the theater lobby and a more elaborate installation at the entrance to the second floor gallery. Richly furnished with memorabilia, the upstairs entry recreates the waiting room of a psychoanalyst, with plain wooden chairs randomly arranged in front of a projected video of Ashley in his studio. Layering past and present, Lucier inflects this footage with a sense of loss, covering the projection in a luminous scrim of pixillated snow that evokes its distance in time. An oriental rug that once belonged to Dorothea Tanning leads into the adjoining “office”. Here, where the business of analysis focuses on the recovery of the subconscious, more rugs and cushions create a sense of oriental luxury, while the furnishings, modeled on those of Freud’s office, evoke the era of surrealism: a bookcase of esoteric texts, ethnographic artifacts, and artworks by Max Ernst, Tanning’s husband, set psychoanalysis itself in a distant temporal realm.
As though by magic, the viewer can enter and take his or her place on a magnificent leather couch, where a monitor suspended overhead offers entry into a realm of reverie. Composed in 1971 of slides taken from a moving car and layered with slides of black and white TV programs, Color Phantoms uses gradual dissolves to suggest movement, a sense of immersion indebted to surrealism, which she has developed with changing technologies throughout her career. The dialogue of analysis is displaced onto the soundtrack, in which a man’s and a woman’s voices are overlaid; Ashley, who had a mild form of Tourette’s Syndrome, generated the man’s voice from his own involuntary speech – hence the title, Automatic Writing, which conflates his process of music composition with the surrealist technique. He’s accompanied by electronic sounds and by the voice of a woman who translates his words into French. The analyst’s chair is empty (available to the participant). We are taken out of our internal space and encouraged to project our personal histories into the room’s poetic vagueness, transporting the serious work of analysis into a realm of artistic play.
In the downstairs lobby, Trial, a four-channel video, revisits Lucier’s 1974 footage of Ashley in performance with Merce Cunningham and his dancers at Cunningham’s studio. With characteristic openness, Cunningham accepted Ashley’s loosely scripted theater piece, The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer and Unknown Accomplices for Crimes Against Humanity, as “decor” for his dancers, and welcomed Lucier and her video camera on stage. Through the lens, all is fragmentary, elusive. In a compression of space and time, Lucier directs the camera at a mirror at the end of the studio, in which Ashley and Anne Wehrer appear as reflections, seen from behind; Cunningham and his dancers also appear as reflections, but occasionally cross in front of the mirror. Sound consists of the couple’s indistinct conversation and ambient noise. The woman speaks constantly; they smoke and drink, kiss, and finally end up on the floor, as Ashley falls from his chair and his partner continues her conversation. Lucier moves back and forth from close-up to long shot, but these are projected here side by side, as though occurring simultaneously. The enigmatic austerity of the Cunningham event contrasts with the ornateness of Lucier’s upstairs installation, yet the reworking of old footage in both cases resembles the process of analysis, bringing lost materials to the surface as fodder for current investigation.
Back upstairs, From Minimalism into Algorithm extends this process. A group exhibition created by the Kitchen’s curatorial team, it juxtaposes, among other things, a plate of steel by Donald Judd, a video of Lucinda Childs dancing to Philip Glass’s music, multi-hued mounds built by termites provided with colored sand by Agnieszka Kurant, and labor-intensive paintings of paint made by Paul Sietsema. It proposes that the chance operations of Cage and Cunningham and the repetitive iterations of minimalism can offer a bridge to art in the digital age. Lucier’s story-telling instincts supply a context for this resurgence of primal materials, as she weaves installation, video and sound into personal and collective narratives that stimulate reflection on the Kitchen’s history. At forty-five, it’s become an institution, but, with experimental ambitions intact, it cultivates awareness of the past with an eye out for new possibilities.