Philip Brou (United States, born 1977), “Black Box,” 2010, scale model reconstruction: mixed media, drawing from direct observation at dawn: acrylic on paper, door rubbing: graphite on graph paper, schematic rendering: graphite on drafting vellum, dimensions variable. Lent by the artist. Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, Augusta.
I am enamored with this piece. Here we have someone accessing a global event through a local context, reeling the expanse of narrative surrounding the events of 9/11 into a tangible and poetic frame. Employing an interdisciplinary mode, Brou investigates the ramifications of history on place, and harnesses the eerie discomfort of the unknown and the voyeuristic impulses that accompany it. On September 10, 2001, Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari rented a room at a hotel in South Portland. The next day they hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and flew it into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Brou exhaustively documents the otherwise tedious minutiae of the South Portland hotel room, culminating in a scale model housed in a conspicuous black box viewed only through a peephole. This is what I would hope to see more of in future biennials: a work with a fully considered multi-faceted concept that engages a broader political climate, a regional fascination, and a personal feeling. Does that resonate with you?
Mostly, but it seems to mystify the 9/11 narrative, which is a classic turn-off.
It's a critique of the mystification of the narrative, calling the viewer on a perverse desire to look inside the box, fantasizing the details of what could be anything but two men simply sleeping in a room. Also, the narrative is already deeply mystified to various ends, this work breaks it down to this distilled and unglorified setting.
Deborah Wing-Sproul (United States, born 1957), “Tidal Culture Part III: Latitude 65.570N/Longitude -37.890W,” Greenland, 2009, single channel video projection, 1 hour. Lent by the artist.
Nearby, I think Deborah Wing-Sproul's video performance piece is marvelous, completely in line with what I expect from the exhibit. A recursive single channel projection of the artist seated on a rock at the foot of a Greenland shoreline, it explores notions that are typically delimited by gallery settings: our tenuous relationship with climate change, the slow passing of time, and the performance of an internal process that isn't shrouded in emotional terms. The artist barely moves a muscle in this hour-long video; instead she leaves ample space for the viewer to make his or her own connections. Contrast that with the opposite wall, where Michael Kahn's "Treasure Hunt" — a photograph also depicting a resplendent shoreline — offers little more than a shopworn notion of beauty. It only makes me consider what it might be like to go on a tropical vacation. We've nearly come full circle: Is anything standing out for you in this room?
I'm applauding Alicia Eggert's kinetic sculpture "Wonder." The hum of electricity and whirling mechanisms really work for me against Wing-Sproul's wash of sound. The piece has an enigmatic quality that, combined with an engaging interactive element, careful execution, and good design, makes for an exciting finale to the show. Clint Fulkerson's graphite drawings are gorgeous. His "Division Series" meditates on the process of mitosis and is suggestive of broader binaries. These contained works really emphasize the artist's hand, his ability to infuse structured and mathematical forms with an organic vitality with unwavering control.