New York

Ann Lislegaard

Murray Guy

In a passage from The Poetics of Space (1958) in which he discusses the solitude and passivity to be experienced in the corner of a room, Gaston Bachelard urges poets to “designate the space of our immobility by making it the space of our being.” Ann Lislegaard’s Corner Piece—The Space Between Us, 2000–2003—two freestanding, white-painted facades meeting at a right angle a short distance from the gallery walls—seemed to respond directly to Bachelard. Though the piece offered little information on a visual level, the space-shaping presence of recorded voices, emanating from speakers installed at the outer corners of the false walls, countered the initial impression of absence.

Lislegaard’s piece placed a heavy burden on the viewer’s auditory sensitivity. One had to listen carefully to get the gist of what was being said; sound came first from one speaker, then another, in no apparent order; the outlines of a conversation could just barely be grasped. Lacking the tonal intimacy of, say, Janet Cardiff’s binaural headphones, Lislegaard’s installation forced the viewer to strain (in polar opposition to Bruce Nauman’s habit of yelling at the audience). One wondered whether this was an intentional effort to encourage concentration or merely a technical glitch; the flimsiness of the walls also contributed to a certain sense of the provisional.

Yet after a few minutes of immersion in the corner, the space seemed to expand and adopt new and interesting contours. The narrative that takes loose shape involves a clandestine meeting—it’s as if your presence there had been prearranged. References to the body—“my lips, your lips, whispering . . .”—and descriptions of how the “visitor” occupies the corner are given a fragmented delivery; often, individual words are simply repeated. Through the gradual buildup of these terms, the stiff right angle is endowed with anthropomorphic form, suggesting affinities with the thirty-year-plus history of Minimalism’s loosening up at the hands of artists like Eva Hesse and Lynda Benglis. Lislegaard’s work, however, is not grounded in a pronounced materiality but relies instead on the power of the insubstantial to communicate. An empty space becomes activated, humanized, through the quiet focus of the listener. One’s conscious acknowledgment of the environment also heightens awareness of time passing, as the intervals between softly uttered words and phrases keep an unhurried, irregular pace.

The restraint of this installation was echoed in two works on view in a second space; one was a video animation (A Room with a View, 2002) of a woman in a simple black dress making gentle movements as light and shadows play across the walls of a room. The time of day appears compressed into a one-and-a-half-minute loop; close attention was required to notice the subtle transformations. Untitled [Fontainebleau], 2002, a photograph based on the famous late-sixteenth-century nipple-pinching painting, hung nearby. Two contemporary young women mimic the gestures of their Mannerist forbears against a milky-white backdrop, but the moment of touch is ambiguous—it’s not clear whether contact is actually made. Giving away as little as the language in Corner Piece, their expressionless faces look out at the viewer as if to make a connection, but, again, they only hint at an exchange. Lislegaard’s recent work may leave you wanting more, but the desire it slowly stirs provides its own satisfaction.

Gregory Williams