Two galleries on 21st Street in Chelsea have completely given over their spaces to art-filled environments, placing the viewer in the role of detective, actor, scientist, and storyteller. And both installations rely on the power of absence to generate ideas.
Eliasson’s Multiple Shadow House is a bare-bones structure, empty and eerily lit. The title gives the space a haunted quality, but Eliasson’s work is more interested in science, perception and inquiry than the occult. I stepped into the first wooden-floored room and the walls in front of me sprung to life with several different shades of my own shadow. After playing around in the first room, I turned the corner and found my shadow there too, in different shades than the first. There were other visitors in this room and they were horsing around more than I was. The shadows were closer together and I started to wonder how they were being created. I turned another corner and saw a shadow on the wall, but it wasn’t mine. The shadow was created by a person on the other side of this screen and so I began to realize that other people could see my shadow and that I was being looked at and watched.
Other works by Eliasson have tapped into the interactive quality of art. I was lucky enough to have visited the Tate Modern when the Weather Project was on view. This video by another visitor captures the experience really well:
Olafur Eliasson Tanya Bonakdar Gallery - 521 West 21st Street until March 20, 2010
Mike Nelson, A Quiver of Arrows, 2010. Insatallation at 303 Gallery.
I found another immersive experience practically next-door. Mike Nelson’s Quiver of Arrows is constructed from four airstream trailers that are set atop a lattice-work structure four-feet off the ground. The door to this compound is in the back of the gallery and visitors are asked to climb the steps, walk in and tour the connected trailers. Navigating these spaces is like experiencing a combination time-travel/telepathy machine: each space is designed differently with objects from past lives that might allow a peak into a collective psyche.
The “travelers” in these trailers have left behind books, posters, personal objects, a tv, and more. It’s like visiting a historic house, but one with a dark or sinister history — these rooms were inhabited by people on the fringes perhaps. Do you see parts of yourself reflected in the spirit of the objects?
In a past project called A Psychic Vacuum, Nelson took over an abandoned building on the Lower East Side and transformed the inside into a maze of rooms conjured up from the building’s own history, literature, the neighborhood itself and cultural references. Nelson’s a British artist, and has said “As a person known for making spaces absent of the people who occupy them, it’s been interesting to work in New York where there’s a ‘presence in absence’ in relation to the World Trade Center.” A writer for Frieze Magazine states, “he could have been tapping into my own hazy memories of Vietnam, not to mention the JFK portrait that used to hang in my great-grandmother’s hallway, above a burning votive.” How are all of these different aspects communicated in one work of art?
Mike Nelson 303 Gallery -547 West 21st Street until April 10, 2010