Wednesday, April 27, 2011

REVIEW: "In the Zone" at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center

By Stephen Orloske

There are nine artists displayed in The Brattleboro Museum and Art Center's third triennial In The Zone, a juried show of local artists, selected this year by Christine Temin. Nine artists makes for a lot of art, of course, so this post will not be about them all, but rather just one. I suggest stopping by; you will assuredly encounter something interesting. Of note: an immense, nine-foot ink painting by Leonard Ragouzeos; a wheelchair that serves as screen and silhouette for a projection by Le Xi; wool spun into eviscerated, cocoon like bodies and hung from meathooks by Nancy Winship Milliken.

All the Trappings: The Best Laid Plans by Angela Zammarelli is a cardboard domicile occupied by a character who is connected gas mask like to headphones. The room is lit an ill green. The walls are cacophonous. Everything is comfy, everything looks miserable.

When you approach the window, like Robert Burns you overturn a mouse's nest. The world of this character is bared by you, the viewer. Is it asleep? Well, who just stares? How can it live with that wallpaper? What if it put on those headphones? Inquiry is like the plow, it alters the whole landscape. A truth you might arrive at: if this tableaux were unpaused then no telling what might happen. Sure, you look in and feel anxious, depressed, but personifying this character leads you astray. This is a world distant as you to a mouse and the worlds of mice are lightless fecal stank holes that we would sooner call graves than the breeding grounds they are.

All the Trappings means this work is talking about inauthenticity and The Best Laid Plans of mice and men gang aft agley, and leave us nought but grief and pain, for promised joy! This leads to common wisdom: live a lie and you'll be miserable. But Zammarelli goes elsewhere. She explores that misery, finds the depressions and neuroses that arise, embodies them in a character, then entombs them in art. Of course, neurosis is particular, which is why we are at a loss when attempting to explain what's seen. But the mood is relatable, visceral the way want and repulsion emanates through the window. What is captured is how neuroses exist as irrational nests within the mind. Like mice they squirrel in, eat of our food, run across our rooms and drive us bonkers.

Most striking is the way everything looks comfortable, though. I would get ill in this nest, be anxious in this character's company, grow depressed in the claustrophobic reality, but all the while I feel I'd be comforted. This captures a truth about neurosis: despite its irrational, inexplicable thoughts and behavior there is comfort in the repetition of its needs (and same can be said of trappings, of the irrational signs of status and need of them). Neurosis erases time, it takes away the trouble of considering past and future and renders us animal, a creature concerned only with immediacy. Even if the subject of that immediacy is something anxious or depressive it relieves the weightiness of being human. Look in the window, upon this character, overturn this nest and think:

Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!

The present only toucheth thee:

But Och! I backward cast my e'e,

On prospects drear!

An' forward tho' I canna see,

I guess an' fear!

In the Zone III is on display until July 3rd.