Galleries

An Unsettling Room and Feeling Like You Belong

An unusual gallery installation in Manhattan raises questions about belonging.

Mami Kosemura “Objects – New York – Gicree” (2016), photograph 248 mm×550 mm (all images courtesy Dillon + Lee Gallery)

Walking up to the townhouse that houses Dillon + Lee gallery, which is on the other side of Tenth Avenue in Chelsea, feels strange. I’m convinced I misread the address or the gallery’s website is mistaken until I climb the stairs and see the name on the buzzer. When I walk inside, I am reminded of the experience of visiting those posh and exclusive galleries on the Upper East Side — the ones where you never see the staff people unless they’re letting you in, the ones that lead me to believe that looking at art is a privilege.

This gallery is an odd concoction of new and old: the original Dillon gallery was founded in 1994 in Soho by Valerie Dillon, later moved to Long Island, then to Chelsea, but the partnership with Diana Lee was only formed a couple months ago. It’s also slightly unsettling to feel that I was walking through someone’s personal home (initially merely a feeling, but later confirmed when I was allowed upstairs to use their bathroom). This is all to say that my experience leading up to my encounter with the exhibition Pendulum by Japanese artist Mami Kosemura, may have played a role in my responses to it. I can’t be sure. But once inside I felt that the piece took me by the hand and twirled me around, and it took me an untold length of time standing at the center of what felt like a visual vortex until I felt the room right itself again and I could understand where I was.

Mami Kosemura, “Pendulum (still) ” (2016) video installation, HD video, 20min., color, silent.

The entire installation actually consists of two distinct bodies of work in two different spaces. In one, there are series of photographs, Objects – New York that are intended to imitate still life paintings made in the style of the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán. When I arrived the space also had some paintings by another artist in an ad hoc showing (which I was told had been for a visiting client). Made uncomfortable by this visual cacophony, I quickly turned to the titular video installation “Pendulum” (2016) in the other room and was transfixed.

“Objects – New York -Gicree” (2016), photograph 385 mm×650 mm

The artist had shown with Dillon back in 2008, and Dillon wanted to work with her again. Kosemura had an artist’s residency at Residency Unlimited, (which is where I first encountered her work) but found herself needing more space than the small studio she was allotted there. To make “Pendulum,” Kosemura gave herself two rules: first to make the content of her video and the installation be of the same place. The second rule was to introduce movement, but one that is simple and rhythmic, such as a pendulum. In the installation, you can see these rules being followed. The effect of watching the video is surreal. I stand in a space and watch an edited, slightly anxious video shows the same space of the salon, an early 20th century sitting room with its Parquet wood floors, its intricately carved marble fireplace, the two outside windows made to block out natural light with inserted panels, the French doors inlaid with patterned glass, and the chandelier with its one hanging lobe in the center of the room like one of the last souvenirs of the Hapsburg empire. There is also a table with an antique candelabra, a broken hand mirror, the vertebra of an animal, a collection of small brass bells, and a lace table cloth.

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Mami Kosemura, “Pendulum (still) ” (2016) video installation

Kosemura has created a video work projected onto two mirrors in the main salon — one broader than it is tall situated over the fireplace, and the other long and placed at on an adjacent wall. They display the images shot in the same room, which is where Kosemura spent the summer. She uses a simple motion of her camera panning from right to left and back, left to right, but sometimes the images are blurry, then they become strong and vibrant. A vibrantly green plant blurs, then is seen reflected in a mirror, then in full verdant regalia as the room becomes bathed in natural light. But the light fades, and the camera shifts again to glimpse the world outside the windows, sped up suddenly, so that day becomes evening in seconds and the shadows come in like a changing of the guard. Then I see, vaguely through the frosted glass of the doors, someone cleaning them. Someone also waters the plants, but they’re not recognizable. Then the camera pans to take in the table arranged like an old European still life with its candelabra and shifting shadows. The repetitive motion is calming, but then the scenes keep shifting.

I see the chandelier’s long centerpiece, a glass teardrop hanging the middle of room, swinging. Then it stops mid-motion. The room keeps turning. Shots of people passing through go distorted as if the images are melting through a fish-eye lens. A child appears and then is asleep in the chair in the corner, and then seems to flit at super speed through the room like a hummingbird. I now can’t be sure how much of the room is real and how much was created by the artist. “Pendulum” may — at its heart — be about giving the room a kind of consciousness along the valences of Freudian mechanics: the room is anxious, not sure where to stay and settle, so it keeps looking, panning, twirling, and wondering how it will ever belong.

Mami Kosemura’s Pendulum continues at Dillon + Lee (487 West 22 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through January 13, 2017.

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