The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

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MAY 2013 Issue

MARY LUCIER New Installation Works

On View
Lennon, Weinberg
March 7 – April 20, 2013
New York

Lucier’s recent installation is a pared-down, elegant affair, which in its apparent simplicity belies a wealth of layered perceptions. Like Lucier’s previous work, these pieces are specific to a place without being wholly documentary and yet still broach the universal. At the gallery entrance, the short video “Beauty and the Beast” (2009 – 13) sets a restrained tone for the installation. The playful interaction of a few young Hmong people walking along the beach, offset by a simple strip of wintery blue Lake Michigan, provokes our initial interest in these people, their relationships, and the space they inhabit.

Mary Lucier, “Wisconsin Arc,” 2009-2013. Single-channel video installation, color, sound, 26:00 (video still). Courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, Inc.

Further along the narrow walls of the gallery hangs a set of delicate silk panels, which achieve a fluid, airy effect that reinforces the mood of the video. Printed on the white silk are video stills: a scene shot through a water glass full of ice cubes, the expansive arc of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Santiago Calatrava building, quietly joyous images of a teen girl and her friends walking along a windswept beach.

Then there is “Wisconsin Arc” (2012), a 26-minute video in three segments. Filming in the main hall of the Milwaukee Art Museum and at adjacent Bradford Beach, Lucier records these light- and life-filled environments from varying focal distances. The camera initially records through a glass of ice water, the ice in clear focus while in the blurry background a young person on crutches struggles along a pathway. Then comes a sped-up record of staged performances highlighting the physical interaction of various individuals with the museum’s particular light and space. Framed by an arc of glass walls and bathed in cool winter light, one person practices an asana; another executes carefree loops on a unicycle. One cannot help but consider the elemental human desire for expansive movement.

The final and most powerful video segment is of three people walking the lakeside beach: a man and two women pass the camera, observing and acknowledging it before walking steadily on toward an unknown destination. Lucier has painstakingly matched the pace of their steps to the slow, insistent beat of the opening bars of Jerry Butler’s “For Your Precious Love” (not New-Age music, as some may assume). What follows are multiple iterations of the same footage, not cut in a single repetitive loop but instead built up in layers, wherein the sequence always starts at a different point in time. The narrative slowly accrues and mutates, advancing the characters along the beach until they disappear into the distance.

The initial impact of Lucier’s not-quite-linear footage is puzzling, even repetitive. But patience is amply rewarded. If the viewer allows the mind to slow to the beating rhythm of footsteps, the work enables meditation on the unknowability of relationships and the passage of time. Who are these people? What is their journey? Is their journey the same as mine? A line from a Stanley Kunitz poem seems apt: “I have walked through many lives, some of them my own.”

Moreover, we recognize in Lucier’s imagery the universal appeal of a walk on the beach with other people. Who is not compelled by interaction with nature, the primal desire for light, open space, and bracing air? Who does not take note of the passage of time? And who does not, on occasion, try to stop and grasp time, to feel completely and totally alive for a few brief and fleeting moments? 

514 W. 25th St. #1 // NY, NY


Corina Larkin

CORINA LARKIN is a painter and writer who lives in New York City. She is also an editor of the Rail's ArtSeen section.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2013

All Issues