Speaking volumes

This week, the School of Art Lecture Series featured three artists pushing the barriers of the artistic world.

Kevin and Jennifer McCoy: As lifetime partners and collaborators, husband and wife Kevin and Jennifer McCoy have established an intimate body of work that speaks of both as personal entities, as well as a combined artistic force. “We like art that has a joke in it, and we like to breathe art into that joke,” said Kevin, who spoke Sept. 24. The artists work primarily in video, performance, and installation, using elements of sculpture in many of their pieces.

Overall, their work has undergone an evolutionary process, moving from a level of viewer-controlled interactivity to a more controlled atmosphere, delving into the artists’ personal experiences. Their earliest works deal with the breakdown and re-ordering of different nostalgic visual aesthetics. For example, Every Shot/Every Episode is a video cataloging every scene from Starsky and Hutch episodes into different categories. As an interactive work, the viewer has the ability to see every zoom, every car chase, or even every erection in the history of the show.

The artists created several similar pieces before their style evolved from interactive to automatically controlled works. In Horror Chase, Kevin and Jennifer rebuilt a movie set (on a miniaturized scale) to a scene from Evil Dead II, and re-filmed the entire scene several times, each of which included a different performance and frame rate. The work itself is a video of the performance, constantly edited in real time by the projecting video equipment to cause a never-ending variation of the chase. Such a video speaks about the subtle variations of film while providing a humorous and engaging look at a cinematic cliché.

From there, Kevin and Jennifer’s work shifted toward the artists’ own personal experiences with cinema, using miniature sets of actual films to represent memories. In the Cardiac Ward represents the time the two of them spent in a hospital while watching American Graffiti. The video cuts from scenes of the miniature set to those of the hospital room. The piece highlights media’s potential to be a personal experience, demonstrating how actual memories and moments in film can be linked with emotion.

From there, Kevin and Jennifer’s focus shifted once again to a more personal take on set reproduction. Creating upright sculptural shapes with two facets, one representing each individual, Double Fantasy deals with each of the artists’ childhood fascinations and dreams. The video captures these moments through close-up projections of the sculptural work.

Even more recently, the artists’ work has begun to deal with language as a personal association, creating different imagery for words in works such as Scary Things, the couple’s latest work. Scary Things delves into a number of different concepts, all dealing with media and the humor behind the individual’s experience with it. Through the use of ready-made objects, Kevin and Jennifer McCoy’s sculptural works speak on a whole as communal, accessible objects that relate specifically to them as individuals. In many ways, their artwork also poses questions about the viewer’s personal and aesthetic experiences.

Mona Hatoum: Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum spoke on campus last Friday, appearing as annual guest for the Robert Lepper Distinguished Lecture in Creative Enquiry. Originally a performance artist, Hatoum now works though sculpture and installation. Her pieces are socially and politically charged, and her work has an inviting playfulness with dark and cryptic undertones. Overall, Hatoum’s art employs the body as a metaphor for society, questioning the barriers that surround it and the institutional structures within it.

To illustrate the concepts of containment and barriers, Hatoum has created a number of installations that cause the viewer to be both intoxicated and enchanted by the space, as well as repulsed and frightened. One of these pieces is Current Disturbance, a site-specific installation in the shape of a large cube. The work is made of rows and stacks of wire cages, each containing a light bulb. The lights glow and dim, and the current’s noise is amplified. The space itself is inviting, yet it also becomes a frightening experience; the claustrophobic effect of the sound parallels the rigidity of the cages to mimic institutional oppression.

Other works deal with the same concept, such as Life Sentence, a work constructed of wire lockers. Hatoum built in a moving light behind the work to enhance its cage-like structure. The silhouetted lockers move with the lights, engaging the viewer, but the coldness of the wire pushes back, connoting dehumanization and entrapment. Another theme pervading Hatoum’s work is the idea of the home as the sight of the familiar turning frightening. Homebound features a domestic scene where all the furniture and appliances have been turned into threatening objects. It is a caged space, where all of the objects have been electrically charged, creating a glowing desertion of what was once a place of comfort. As stated by Hatoum, her art illustrates “the domestic turned demonic.” Likewise, Hatoum’s Grater Divide is a free-standing wall shaped like a giant cheese grater. Threatening and sharp, the implication is that it could physically shred a human body. The pairing of these two household objects creates both a familiarity and a fear of the work’s purpose.

Hatoum’s work provides the viewer with a push and pull narrative. Marbles Carpet (literally a carpet made of glass marbles) has an intentionally dangerous element, although the actual installation is seductive and visually pleasing. Likewise, another work from afar looks like a velvety welcome mat, but upon close examination, it is actually hundreds of sharp steel pins. This provides a certain dark humor to the work itself, playing on the viewer’s sentiments and making the pieces mentally accessible, and yet physically impossible to associate with.

Mona Hatoum’s work plays on both sides of the viewer’s emotions. There is an engaging and romantic element to her pieces, combated by a repulsive violence. She successfully establishes pieces that make a powerful and dark statement while still remaining beautiful.