I just wanted to do a quick review of my experience of Marcia Vaitsman's work currently on display at Solomon Projects in Atlanta.
The title of the show, "A Study of Strange Things" seems to be a bit simple and possibly naive, and when one sees the show, the sparse population of works can easily lead to confirming this reaction. But then again, the appearance of simplicity is often due to a lack of investigation. It is from this idea that the rest of my analysis will grow...
Two opposing walls in the gallery each hold a tetratych of large photographs. Another wall has a video, while the other wall, technically holds nothing, instead has an installation of maybe forty small photographic light boxes. Essentially, there is a visual-spatial intersection of two lines; one whose points connect images that are the result of a photographic process whose media absorbs (and reflects) light, the other connecting images created through a similar process, but whose end form emits light. In this way, Vaitsman sets up a conversation around the ideas of photography (and video) in relation to the medium of light. Her graduate thesis, of which I only had time to scan, mentions influence of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, so I will indulge. In his lecture, On the Gaze as Objet Petit a, Lacan alludes to a subject that exists as the relationship between a light source, and the image that light source produces. Imagine a film projector. It is a light source. The light it projects is caught by a screen. When we perceive the image, we do not see it on the screen, but in or beyond the screen. This situation explains the existence of the subject, where the subject is the screen. [A two-dimensional image like a painting or photograph uses the inverse function of light to produce perspective, or the appearance of depth, within an image. Still, in this instance, the image, or surface of the two-dimensional object is analogous to the existence of the subject.]
Vaitmans similarly sets up a site of subjective existence in a perpendicular intersection of images that produce and absorb light.
Another relationship I found in the work was a conflation and confusion of the large and small. The large photographs on the wall are all macro images, who subjects are blown-up to be larger than their real world (pre-photographic) existence. The images from the lighted sources, are fragmented and made smaller than their original existence (for the light boxes some may be similar in size.) This dichotomy really fleshes out the understanding of all of the unused space of the gallery.
One of the most intriguing naturally occurring optical illusions is the changing size of the moon (or sun). When on the horizon, the moon looks large, yet while it is in the middle of the sky it seems relatively small. The actual reason for this illusion is still up for debate, but the common explanation is that the moon looks larger at the horizon because it has other recognizable distance cues for judgement - i.e. the horizon is obviously far away, so the moon is only perceived to be large, while the 'dome' of the night sky is immeasurable, so it is assumed to be closer, thus giving the illusion of a smaller moon.
When this idea is brought to the photographs and video Vaitsman provides, we begin to relate the vastness of the empty space in the gallery to the border (frame) of each work. Similarly, we relate the size of each image to the size of its frame, and our assumption of the original size each image's subject to its subsequent photographic size. When we assert ourselves into the intersection of the images that is representative of our subjectivity, we become Alice - one who changes size in relation to the (perceptual) tasks at hand.
Now, we can see the imagery in each of the works as a portrait of ourselves; a zebra with no stripes, who is not a zebra at all, but a voodoo doll of wound-up physical matter partly frozen, partly thawed; a fragmented peacock of sexuality, whose kaleidoscopic identity is constantly shifting; the list can go on with each image, and each grouping of images...
A Study of Strange Things is just what its name suggests, and as with everything that at first seems simple, the longer it is studied, the stranger it becomes.