Friday, February 23, 2007

Embedded at Conner Contemporary

reviewed by David Waddell

I visited the Maria Friberg exhibition at Conner Contemporary the other day. This Swedish video artist and photographer has had three solo shows at Conner in the past six years. This one is titled ‘Embedded,’ which features one video triptych and four photographs. While I did not pay as much attention to the photography, the video completely mesmerized me. Two of the three screens were packed for PULSE art fair, but I still enjoyed the experience on the single screen. It made gallery hopping worthwhile.

The video fits into a range of categories. It reflects nature, fashion photography, advertisements, landscape and subjects of masculinity and feminism.

Due to the pace of the video, one primarily associates the work with nature. Four men dressed in black, slowly emerge from the center of a mattress which is luxuriously draped in white sheets. Some compare the action in the video to the cycle of a caterpillar transforming in a cocoon. My immediate thoughts were that of a rose bud opening its petals. The figures are born from the center and creep towards the parameters of the screen. A horizonless background allows the viewer to dismiss scale. It might as well be the center of a flower.

I had wondered if Friberg incorporated stop-motion animation. Norm McClaren shot frame-by-frame to capture humans performing impossible tasks. I suspected that the movement was altered and slowed down as well. Friberg states that the work was done in real time. While I gasp at the thought of a person having to perform this excruciatingly slow act, she explains that dancers were no good at the assigned task. Rather, those who used meditation were successful.

It makes sense that Friberg uses men who meditate. The work is about isolation and the mental and physical boundaries of the body. It is about the individual that is so much smaller than the scope of the world. We never can escape ourselves and pull out to see ‘the bigger picture.’ Even those in the same bed are not in communication. They are silent bed partners and separate entities. The bed acts as a cloud, an island, a raft and an iceberg.

When listening to the discussion between Friberg and Julee Holcombe on feminism, I thought, “Yes, these men are the muse.” The woman is stands behind the camera as a director and in control. The men seem limp and without control at all. Contrary to the visuals, this is a real act and these men are in complete control of their movement. Their minds are in tune with their bodies through meditation. Friberg is documenter in this instance.

The aesthetics of the work emasculates these men as they slide off this bed, in a flaccid manner. They are arched back, stretched out and beautified. I associate these men with the backup dancers for this one Shania Twain video. Twain is dressed in a suit as a man. She has the microphone and is in control. She is surrounded by men with shaved heads and red fishnet shirts. They play fake guitars and are merely present as eye candy in this gender role reversal.

I also associate these men with a skin commercial due to the black-and-white color schematics and costuming. The exposed body parts are central locations for lotion: the hands, feet and face. In the commercial, a leathery alligator waddles through a minimal stage towards someone who needs lotion. I feel the same deliberate staging in this work.

I find this work so appealing because it falls into the realm of good photography, advertising, and staged fashion. Friberg has an acute sense of color and compostion because she was a trained painter. This is evident in the video as well as her photography.

Friberg got into this line of work because she did not want to be isolated in the studio. And yet she makes work about isolation. When viewing ‘Embedded’ I felt like I was alone in the gallery having an intimate moment with the video screen.

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