Critics’ Picks

Rebecca Digne, Mains, 2010, still from a color film in 16 mm, 1 minute 15 seconds.

Rebecca Digne, Mains, 2010, still from a color film in 16 mm, 1 minute 15 seconds.


Rebecca Digne

Jeanine Hofland Contemporary Art
Various locations
March 10–April 21, 2012

Rebecca Digne’s exhibition “Mains” demonstrates her subtle mastery of detail. Four small-scale works, three short films, and a slide show all feature ultrabrief moments that lodge inescapably in your mind. Take Matelas, 2008, a black-and-white video that runs just over a minute and features an overturned mattress rolling around the screen. For just a moment, an arm emerges from it, creating a gripping image that forces one to piece together a narrative and thus delve deeper into the work. What otherwise might be banal aspects of the film become of interest: the corridor in the background, for example, as it might suggest where the mattress has come from; whether the arm is a man’s or a woman’s—or do these even matter? The minuscule becomes of utmost importance as one grapples with the footage, attesting to Digne’s capacity to build layers of meaning with the sparest of material.

Digne’s attention to detail plays out in other forms as well. Consider the way she displays Matelas: The film is shown on a screen that blocks passage to an adjacent area of the gallery. Nearby Handcuffs, 2010, is screened on an angular television that has a metal box–like quality, which, incidentally, perfectly matches the event in the film: a hand locking a pair of handcuffs. These touches summon the feel that viewer is as locked into the exhibition as the events are into the films, which play in endless loops. The video Mains, 2010—which seems almost like a feature film, as it is the only work that contains more than one camera position (there are four)—enhances this feel. We see a man with shoulder-length hair holding his hands in the air; his palms are remarkably dirty. By selecting a man who looks vaguely like Jesus (who is often depicted performing this same signal), Digne isolates the gesture and subtly emphasizes its ambiguity: Whether his aim is surrender or warning is decidedly unclear. Though the footage may be sparse, Digne shows that in the right combination even the tiniest, almost invisible actions can overflow with meaning—as long as both the artist and the spectator have an eye for it.