Two innovative new exhibits showing at the ICA

by Beacon Staff • March 18, 2009

biMy Eyes Can Only Look At You/b/i

In 1907, pictures of naked women and bowls of fruit didn't seem to interest artists anymore. Instead, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juanhi Gris turned to cubism, in which the world of objects was broken down, analyzed and rearranged. These artists took a look at the world around them and used their tools to represent it in a way the public had never seen.

Photographer Eileen Quinlan has made a similar breakthrough with her crafty camera work at the Institute of Contemporary Art's iMy Eyes Can Only Look at You/i.

What Picasso did with an oil crayon, Quinlan does with a camera. The Boston native uses tricks of film photography to capture an image in a fractured and kaleidoscopic perspective.

She photographs a common repertoire of images we often see; commercial ads, paintings, flat panels, hangers, album covers and screen saver patterns; and distorts them by using backdrops of mirrors and fabrics.

The result is a different and fractured look at the objects that we casually witness in our every day lives.

One example from the exhibit is a Francisco Goya painting that Quinlan calls "Red Goya." It is because it is a photo of a famous painting that makes it so astonishing. It is the fact that no matter how often you have seen this painting hanging in a museum, Quinlan can show it to us in a new and unusual way.

"Red Goya" is a photograph of a painting as if someone had traced it on a mirror and then shattered the mirror with a hammer.

The big geometric shapes of her photos are pleasing and delightful, and the lines formed by fragmented advertisements and somewhat familiar paintings are oddly satisfying. Some pieces still hold a chunk of the painting, puling us back into the world of familiarity if only for a second, which is just enough to keep the viewer's eye interested, entertained and curious.

To achieve these effects Quinlan uses a number of deceptions of the lens. In order to get the desired colors and shading, Quinlan uses color gels, or tinted screens, which slide over a camera lens to get different shades of color. She also uses flash on close-up shots to get the best effects.

Such uses can be seen in her "Night Flight" series, where a number of different photos depict three beams flexing outward from a dark center. One of these images, "Night Flight #3" is tinted red and black while another "Night Flight #8" reflects different shades of green and orange.

Pablo Picasso once said, "Art is a lie that makes us see the truth." Quinlan's images do lie. Their colors are manipulated, the objects are vague and the angles are unnatural. But the truth is that her innovation has shown us that no matter what your medium is, it is ok to experiment with the comforts of structure and familiarity so that they can be seen in a new light, or in this case a new lens.

biActing Out: Social Experiments in Video/b/i

Fear is a common thread that seems to pull different cultures together in this day and age. People fear those who are different and those we do not trust. Eight years after Sept. 11, Americans still fear those who want to fly planes into our buildings or hurt our troops in Iraq, and drive down our economy even further. Americans are not the only group of people living with social tension, and the ICA's exhibit iActing Out, Social Experiments in Video/i demonstrates this world-wide anxiety in an innovative and chilling way.

Five videos hang on the walls of the gallery by five emerging artists, all depicting sociological topics and experiments through film. Each piece is a video of people participating in events the artists have prepared. The people are not actors and there is no script, leaving only the emotions and actions to describe the similarities, differences and tension of different groups of people in these difficult times. The exhibit is about the journey the artists take as they explore the art and expression behind social experiments.

iWild Seeds/i by Yael Bartana

Bartana's video depicts Israeli teens playing a game that quickly turns sour. The boys involved in the game become "police" pulling "settlers" out of a group. The hostility becomes greater as the dialogue turns harsh and starts to eerily depict situations in territories under the authority of a harsh military occupation. This most likely influenced by what they are seeing as they live through the Arab-Israeli conflict.

iMagical World/i by Johanna Billings

Billings records Croatian children as they practice singing an American song in what looks like a school or day-camp classroom. The children try with hope and excitement to get all of the words right and hit every note.

The youths, however, struggle with the hard language, and all that is left of the ringing notes is an important but difficult effort to adopt western concepts.

This is a good example of how the use of documentation and experimentation through film proves thought-provoking and telling to the viewer. Hearing the children's tiny voices makes it more powerful than if it were a painting or photograph.

iHe Who Laughs Last Laughs Longest/i by Phil Collins

As an emerging video artist, Phil Collins (no, not the singer Phil Collins) makes his second Boston appearance. Last year the Museum of Fine Arts held an exhibition called iWar and Discontent/i, in which the artist had a very large scale video piece called iThey Shoot Horses/i.

The seven-hour video depicted teens in Baghdad at a dance, and how their social lives were affected by their culture.

His piece at the ICA is a bit more light-hearted but equally as inquisitive and pertinent. iHe Who Laughs Last Laughs Longest/i is a commentary on the madness of reality TV and television competitions.

It is in this video where Collins' subjects participate in a contest to see who can laugh the longest. As the video goes on we see what is supposed to be a joyful expression become contorted, contrived and almost painful to watch and hear.

iTHEM (SIE)/i by Artur Zmijewski

Zmijewski creates a tense setting when he puts a group of social activists in a room for a workshop.

In the discussion, the different social and cultural backgrounds includes Polish youths, conservative Catholics, Jewish activists and leftist socialists.

The conversation immediately turns into one of chaos and discontent. The activists begin to defile the beliefs of the others by yelling harsh words.

The video becomes an explosion of conflict. Some become aggressive, others start to negotiate and some simply withdraw.

When the turmoil in the room starts to become uncomfortable, we recognize this tense scene as a microcosm for the world's current affairs and conflicts which have frequently been making headlines over the past decade.

iLetter on the Blind, for the Use of Those Who See/i by Javier Teacute;llez

Teacute;llez leaves us on a hopeful note with this final piece. The artist brings a group of blind people together to share a sensory experience. The people touch an elephant's tough and wrinkled skin with their hands and faces, sharing the encounter with their peers.

Teacute;llez uses the Indian parable "The Blind Man and the Elephant," to demonstrate, through film, how human beings are capable of experiencing the same event in different and unique ways.

He

proves harmony and disparity are essentially one in the same and that different outlooks are what make us fundamentally human.