Now settled into its new University Circle home, MOCA Cleveland is unafraid to challenge visitors. Eschewing displays of discreet art objects, its spring schedule instead offers performance art and experimental film.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's The Paradise Institute explores cinema as technology for tampering with viewers' sense of reality. Inside a plywood shed, seventeen people can sit on red velvet and look over a balcony onto a diorama of a lavish theater, the perspective of which is tweaked to make it look real, but distant in its vastness. After pulling on their headphones, the illusion is supplemented by frighteningly realistic sounds of unseen moviegoers mumbling, shuffling, and shushing.
The tiny, "distant" screen play a thirteen-minute neo-noir film set in a dark hospital featuring a stoic man tied to a bed and a nurse who fights for him against a terrible old man with unnamed authority.
The theater and the film's sordid world start bleeding together. A whispering female companion tells us "it" has been arranged, and "he" will meet with us after the movie. She leaves and is replaced by a voice like a taunting Werner Herzog. We must think we're so clever, he says, playing both sides against each other.
The assaults of harsh, too-close human voices startle ears and prickle spines. Cardiff and Miller also transgress by renegotiating the contract between filmmakers and audiences. The theater itself is not supposed to be part of the artifice, and the thrilling but dangerous worlds of story are supposed to stop at the screen. We struggle for footing on ground with redrawn borders.
Body of Work is the first solo museum exhibit by Kate Gilmore, assistant professor and at State University of New York, Purchase. The exhibit consists of televisions replaying Gilmore's past performance art, and a new project, "Love 'em, Leave 'em." Though the new piece contains a big static construct for visual consumption, it is incorrect to think of Gilmore's work being complete in this concrete thing. "Love 'em, Leave 'em" is not an art object, but an "art entity," spread out over time as well as space.
The construct is a 10-foot-tall scaffold at whose base lie broken ceramic pots that have spilled and splashed black, pink, and white paint. This tableau is engaging in itself, with its foreboding pile of broken earthenware, Abstract Expressionist-like splatters, and fresh paint-smell. But it is only a tangible after-trace of the real production, Gilmore's solitary performance, which she recorded on a video to be played on a loop in a theater off the assemblages room.
For the performance, Gilmore donned all black: a blouse, skirt, hose, and flats. She grabbed four or five paint-filled ceramic pots, and scooted them up the scaffold's steps. When she reached the top, she tossed the pots through one of three holes in the walkway, sloshing paint and cracking ceramic. She then repeated this process for an hour and 32 seconds. Minutes pile on, and her breath gets heavier. Her hands stain, and she has to brush hair and sweat out of her eyes with the back of her wrists.
The repetitiveness of the contrived challenge Gilmore sets for herself both celebrates perseverance and pokes fun at artists' self-serious strivings towards heroism. Gilmore's wearing of feminine attire during her grueling physical task carves out a feminist dimension to her work. She affirms her toughness, while denying her steel is a distinctly "masculine" quality.
There are only a few works currently installed at MOCA, but together they demand an afternoon's attention.
The new exhibits will run through June 9 at 11400 Euclid Ave. General admission is $8, $6 for seniors, and $5 for students.
Call 216-421-8671 or go to mocacleveland.org.