1. Another Circle
Two ballerinas (or rather one ballerina projected twice) pirouettes in an endless cycle in the awkward room, the intimacy of a motel office of Chinatown's unexpectedly iconic Moytel, a former inn converted to apartments. With gray painted floors, the office has been white-cubed as much one can actually convert the former motelier’s quarter’s (or should I write Moytelier) into the late twentieth century’s spare showroom for art.
2. Crystal Forest
Individual shards of subtle crystals arch together on a mirrored platform with four thin, black steel legs, surrounded by a series of sunburst stones setting out from the corner. Something in between a diviner’s shop tools and a Minimalist's mock-up, Robert Smithson’s little known mescaline collab with Aleister Crowley.
Behind the motel office, across the concrete hallway lined with metal mailboxes and hiding a stone stairwell, and into the central courtyard (courtyard might be too pretty a word for the distressed asphalt, faded paint, drying laundry, and parked cars, but it’s what English gave us), a garage door is open to three rows of black bowls (62 if you care to count) surrounding a central round mirror. I’ve been sent pictures of a naked waif, a natural brunette with an angular body, holding the mirror over her face in the center, an opening night performance in conjunction with another: a ballerina (a third or perhaps just the one, split three ways) performing in the office with her two projected doppelgangers in ceaseless turns on either side of her.
Introductions generally come before main attractions, but like any art exhibition where you look before you read the wall-text or the press release, we get to have the introduction after we’ve already begun. The three descriptions above derive from an exhibition currently up at The Company in Chinatown, The Scrying Trilogy by Jen DeNike. Scrying (which I had to look up, my supernatural lexicon being a little rusty) means “foretell the future using a crystal ball or other reflective object or surface.” One finds its origins in the word “descry” which means “catch sight of” and from whence we get our word “description.” So 1-3 were far off the mark, if linguistically untimely.
Dance and dancers have been traipsing their way into contemporary art these last couple of years: in Los Angeles, with spare and beautiful presentations by Laura Riboli and Kelly Nipper, further afield we have Israeli Berliner Keren Cytter starting a dance troupe, Ryan McNamara’s dance lessons at Greater New York, and David Velasco’s excellent piece on choreagrapher Ann Liv Young in the pages of Artforum, to name just a few instances. The subject deserves more attention than I can give it here (and there’s guaranteed a museum exhibition in the offing as we speak), but this turn toward dance still has to make sense somehow in the specific context we call art. Is doing a play in a gallery “art,” or just old-fashioned drama with a new skin and a handful of sellable props, therein known as “sculptures?”
Though I refuse to be the border patrol between “art” and “non-art” or even more specifically between the different arts, I can easily write that Jen DeNike ellides such simple problems with subtle nods in the basic installation, in not only her use of the language of visual art but also a nuanced acknowledgement of what can be at stake in art, without getting too abstract. The process of divination derives its power from a fear of the unknown. Art if it’s any good does that exactly, bravely strolling into the mysteries of our moment and coming back with visual evidence of the sojourn there. DeNike’s evidence feels like relics of some journey of figuring out, spiced with the strangeness as it is of the occult with its arcane secrets and pagan rites. Though magick (note the intentional “k”) is invoked, the exhibition has the clean clarity of our moment, lacking all the faux-orientalist aromas and damasks I associate with new-agey strip-mall crystal parlors.
It’s hard to say what I might say about this exhibition if delivered in a supersized commercial gallery with thirty foot ceilings and polished concrete floors: its coolness might become too inhumanly chilly. But here in the forced intimacy of the Moytel office, the crisp, clean aesthetic felt refreshingly brisk in the long, slow heat of Indian summer.
- Andrew Berardini
(Images: Jen DeNike, Another Circle, 2010, Single channel video, 3 min, continuous loop, Edition 1 of 3; Jen DeNike, Bird in Space (for Damien), 2010, Crystals mined by the artist, mirror, steel, 65 x 12 x 12 inches, Unique; Jen DeNike, Hydromancy, 2010, 62 bowls, water, mirror, and performer, Dimensions variable, Unique; Jen DeNike, Another Circle, Installation Image. All images courtesy the artist and The Company.)