Dorit Cypis

U. C. Video Electronic Arts Gallery

Densely layered and deeply personal, Dorit Cypis’ nine-part Love after Death: A Renaissance took as its theme such shifting, abstract concepts as history, memory, culture, and desire, exploring states of mind rather than the corporeal environment. Identifying her mixed media performance as a “theater of mutability,” Cypis primed her audience for a half hour of change. Spectators were free to stand anywhere and even encouraged to move about as they were confronted with a constantly fluctuating tableau of audio and visual stimuli. Photographic images were projected on two scrims from the front and from behind, showing the reclining forms of naked male and female bodies dissolving into hands, landscapes, and shots of Cypis’ family from the turn of the century. Cypis cast shadows across the projected images with slow, fluid motions of her arms and hands, while the ten other performers acted out choreographed and spontaneous movement to both live and synthesized music. Signifying emotional, psychological, and temporal changes, the performers progressed through distinct layers of activity, frequently carrying objects such as books and mirrors, as in the sections titled “Breaking” and “Seduction of Reflections.” In “Emptying Out” one performer danced feverishly with a skeleton tethered to her back and a baby doll to her chest.

Love after Death also changed according to the viewer’s vantage point. The opening “Darkness” section featured the “mesmeric table,” a motorized cylinder lined on its interior with projected images that were in or out of focus, depending upon where one stood. Similarly, the series of slide dissolves, and the dancing performers behind them, were more visible to certain viewers than others, while images projected on a side wall of the space were seen by many only at an oblique angle.

Emotionally and sexually evocative, Love after Death raised the question of how personal a performance can be and still convey the artist’s intent to the viewer. Steeped in memory and private sensory experience, the work successfully established a mood yet failed to convey an overall message. Love after Death bombarded the viewer with images, movement, and sound but, in its brief duration, did not provide enough time for connections to be made, for conclusions to be drawn. Although one became aware of certain elusive themes—sexuality, cycles of birth and death, the magnitude of the inner world—one was left dangling, wondering why Cypis explored these themes and with what intent her constantly shifting environment elucidated them. Although Love after Death was an ambitious piece, and even compelling at moments, it was too fragmented to comprehend in a single viewing. While it effectively captured our attention, the work seemed to be more a loosely knit pastiche of subliminal, undeveloped ideas than a completed whole.

Mason Riddle