Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Nothing!

Today, at the last minute, I decided to go see Mary Lucier's Polaroid Projection Series at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I had been to museum once recently and I much enjoyed the Sensory Overload exhibit that Lucier's work is a part of. However, I had never experienced her work. I enjoyed the pyramid of televisions and the flashing lights, but my attention span is limited, so when I walked into the Pyramid Projection Series that first time and saw 4 unimpressive pictures being projected, one on each wall, and heard a monotone voice speaking slowly, I vocalized my disinterest with a "pff" and proceeded back to the pretty lights. I was not being a very good spectator. Today, I walked back in to that exhibit with a more open mind, which was unfortunate for the state of my mind.

I began my viewing experience without knowing what exactly I was watching (I walked in when the series was about 3/4 complete). The images on the walls and the voice were different than I remembered. They were now formless spots of black and white and the voice was just strange sounds. I was curious. The pictures changed slightly at different intervals and the sounds became more distant. My girlfriend watched with me for a bit, but decided it wasn't for her. I told her that I wanted to see where it was going and that she should have a look around. Her response sums up the atmosphere of the room. "I'm afraid that when I come back I'll find you decapitated or something." I was pretty sure that wouldn't happen (not 100%, mind you), but I did feel like this was a place one could lose their mind in. I sat alone for the remainder of the series. A few stragglers popped in every so often, but they didn't stay for long and I was glad for that. The audio had become almost like sonar; it gave me the impression that I was in a film about deep space. The blackness of the images started to peel away to reveal white and I was becoming eager to see where they had begun. It eventually ended; everything stopped and the series started over again.

The four original images appeared to me (a woman, the city of Boston, a chair, and people playing croquet). They weren't very interesting in themselves, but I was sure their transformations would be. The audio also irked me slightly. It was clearly a man talking now and what he had to say wasn't particularly interesting. The deterioration of all the images was pleasing, but particularly the city and the girl. The girl became more blown out, but her black hair remained and became even darker. It looked like paint spilled over a white canvas. The city dissolved more and more until the ball of nothing I knew it would become. I became more comfortable in the room as this went on. I wanted nothing more than a return to the room I had originally entered. I wanted everything to be formless and to not understand the words being spoken to me. I wanted to feel like I was in deep space again. It was peaceful. The piece starts as something very recognizable and easy to understand; the images and words are clear, but they're not interesting. It's as things become simpler that they become more pleasing. When the images and words are no longer relate-able to real life, the piece becomes more pleasing. After 23 minutes of degrading the stimulus, the senses are free to take everything in.

The course was prefaced by an article on the relationship between art and the spectator. I truly have no idea what was meant by Mary Lucier and I'm not liable to find out. This was an exhibit aimed at the spectator. It's not something to be merely glanced at; it's an experience. I went to the museum with the mindset of experiencing this series, it's obvious that everyone else that waltzed into it today was not. What did they gain from their momentary glance inside the room? I can't imagine anything. This is something to be experienced in 23 minutes. From this experience, I can feel what I feel about it and judge whether it was worth it, or whether it has any meaning. I feel it was worth it and it means something to me. I may be wrong in my way of thinking about it, but I'm the spectator damn it and what I say goes.

1 comment:

R. Nugent said...


I applaud you for returning to the Museum to experience the work, despite your initial reaction.

Your description of the work is pretty solid, but don't hesitate to be very specific. For example, what was being said on the soundtrack once it was "clear"? Try to focus on particular aspects that serve as the crux of the work. Also, you could have used the quote from Marcel Duchamp that you are citing; consider the reader to be someone outside of the class.

However, you did use the framework provided by the quote to give lend some context to your experience with the Polaroid Projection Series.

R. Nugent