jeudi 12 mars 2009
Ann Lislegaard (Murray Guy Gallery, New York)
These works comprise the second and third parts of a trilogy of 3D animations based on science fiction novels that began with Bellona (After Samuel R. Delany), exhibited in 2005. This trilogy continues Lislegaard’s longstanding investigation into spatial perception and cognition and, in particular, divergent forms of narrative. She draws here on science fiction not to illustrate its imaginative content but rather, as Frederic Jameson articulates it, because of science fiction’s potential to provide “something like an experimental variation on our empirical universe.” The works reference modernism and historical visions of the future to reflect on our present triangulation of space and knowledge and temporality; as a whole, they comprise a far-reaching investigation into the structuring of cognition in the digital age. Crystal World (After J.G. Ballard) is a looping double screen animation showing a modernist glass hotel in a tropical jungle that is slowly invaded by crystalline growth. Text drawn from Ballard’s 1966 novel, which describes a viral crystal found deep in the rainforest that petrifies all organic matter, mingles intermittently with shifting digital images of shadows and the jungle seen from vague interior spaces. Taking the glass house as conceit for a modernist structuring of knowledge, Lislegaard’s animation directly references the Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi’s 1951 Glass House, and the work of Robert Smithson and Eva Hesse, who investigated crystalline and organic structures as a means of articulating nonlinear time. Set in a similarly extreme climate, Left Hand of Darkness (After Ursula K. LeGuin) is a three-channel projection that draws on LeGuin’s 1969 novel describing an icy planet populated by a single sex of androgynous humanoids. Pages of the novel are inscribed on top of another and rotoscopic images spin next to drawings of male and female genitalia. Here identity and behavior seem at once both paralyzed and in a state of constant flux; the novel’s radical re-imagining of gender is inscribed in a fluid space between cinema, architecture and writing. As in The Crystal World, Lislegaard works to reconfigure polarities—between interiority and exteriority, male and female, organic and inorganic—in an explosively horizontal digital terrain, where nothing aligns as we would expect.
Ann Lislegaard’s mesmerizing new digital animations take inspiration from classic science fiction without illustrating it, and connect to hot-button current events without relying on them for meaning. This is strange territory seen anew. The frozen land of Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness and the tropical jungle of J.G. Ballard’s 1966 The Crystal World—whose settings and titles the artist borrows—host abstract alternate worlds where opposites are conjoined to enchanting and disorienting effect. Lislegaard’s Left Hand of Darkness (after Ursula K. Le Guin) is a riveting whirl of geometric patterns, moving text and ski gear. Though the exact combination of images is calibrated not to repeat, the combined effect remains deliberately less nuanced than Le Guin’s meticulously imagined planet. Lislegaard’s literally black-and-white environment has a chilly, nervous energy, with a crackling static soundtrack suggesting a futile search for communication. Superimposed anatomical diagrams of male and female sex organs (referring to the novel’s androgyne race) bluntly deny pleasure. The mood in Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard) is equally stark. There may be environmental overtones in Lislegaard’s struggles between human(oid)s and nature, but her work’s appeal, both aesthetic and intellectual, lies in its extreme contrasts: a setting simultaneously snow-white and white-hot, an icy crystal suddenly melting into a black pool, modernist architecture surrounded by overgrown vegetation, and sharp tonal contrasts punctuated by blinding flashes of light. In reimagining Le Guin’s and Ballard’s already eccentric departures from the norm, Lislegaard has created stunning, binary-busting visions, both horrible and beautiful.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the recent economic domino-effect is that some of the key components that factored into the disintegration – a credit default swap, for example – are structural elements most people had never even heard of prior to the crisis, and yet govern and profoundly affect our individual existences. The Orwellian edge to our current reality is more terrifying even than the strangest science fiction. In her exhibition at Murray Guy, Ann Lislegaard effectively harnesses the sense of the alien among us through an investigation of perception as manifest through several contemporary constructed versions of reality. Lislegaard’s combination of multiple reference sources in her videos serves to frame perception without taking any of the vehicles directly as subject matter, though Crystal World (After J.G. Ballard) (2006), one of the two animations on view, does seem to effect a subtle, broader critique of the digital. The video, an unsynced two-channel loop that operates in a continuously recombinant stream, delivers surreal visual renderings of a variety of spaces. It is accompanied by an excerpt from J.G. Ballard’s haunting 1966 work by that name, which chronicles the progress of a viral crystal as it gradually petrifies a tropical landscape. The tension between abstraction and representation jangles as our viewpoint is led through a series of sparsely furnished architectural interiors with modernist overtones, many of them giving out into densely forested space; sometimes there is just enough visual information for the interiors to come together, while the outdoors is more richly detailed, though rendered rather flatly. Undercurrents of the passage of time and of the limits of perception nibble everywhere in the video like pangs of compunction. In reference to the advancing crystallisation, the excerpted lines read eerily: ‘I quickly came to understand / that its hazards are a small price to pay / there are immense rewards to be found / in this phantasmagoric place / as more and more time leaks away.’ One could easily imagine the digital being substituted in place of the crystal as subject of this passage. As light and shadow slide across the rooms ostensibly to create the illusion of a passing day, the details of the image get so blown out as to be indiscernible; the uncomfortable sense of having reached the edge of one’s world and one’s perceptual reach. Left Hand of Darkness (After Ursula K. Le Guin) (2008) is less convincing experientially. In a three-channel animation, Lislegaard layers a simplified animation of a sexually ambiguous figure performing what look like various martial arts activities, with medical diagrams of male and female genitalia, schematic renderings of wintertime athletic equipment and superimposed text from Le Guin’s namesake work, in which an icy planet is governed by an androgynous race. Though it is more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ its affect remains squarely in the cold realm of impassive scientific observation that lends the freak factor to Crystal World, though the investigation into the subjectivity of sexuality does register as an intellectual, if not as strongly an aesthetic, force. Together the videos lend a sometimes chilling take on fundamental forces that govern our world and shape our understanding of it.