New York

Maria Nordman, FILMROOM EAT, 1967–PRESENT, two 16-mm black-and-white films transferred to digital video, table, table-cloth. Installation view.

Maria Nordman, FILMROOM EAT, 1967–PRESENT, two 16-mm black-and-white films transferred to digital video, table, table-cloth. Installation view.

Maria Nordman

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

Maria Nordman, FILMROOM EAT, 1967–PRESENT, two 16-mm black-and-white films transferred to digital video, table, table-cloth. Installation view.

Present. It’s a keyword in Maria Nordman’s oeuvre and a cipher in much of her work. Beginning in the late 1960s, Nordman has designated her works as continuous, signaling the way they are always ongoing; user-driven; focused toward a public, a task, or an “outside of itself,” as Heidegger might have formulated it. A case in point is FILMROOM EAT 1967–PRESENT, the heart of this brisk retrospective-like show (though retrospective seems like the wrong word, and too confining, since each work has a “co-authorial role”—think relational aesthetics avant la lettre).

For this iteration of the work, a sign outside a structure instructs that only two visitors may enter at a time. Inside, a wall separates two silent 16-mm black-and-white projections. These show the same scene—an actor and actress serving themselves a fancy meal—but frame it with a static shot on the right side and in close-ups on the left. A groovy, Warholian vibe ensues. As the characters begin chewing, we recognize that Nordman’s influence as director was minimal—the actors didn’t need to be told how to eat. In the work’s original conception, the artist hoped to confine the work’s spectators to the very actor and actress we see on the screens. In abandoning this idea and opening the work up to a wider audience (though always an audience of two), Nordman allows the possibility for doubling to remain. In front of the screen on the left, there’s a white-cloth-covered table, identical to the table in the projections. Itself a screen of sorts, the furniture opens up potentials and possibilities, prodding us to interact with our partners. We focus not on the film but on the here and now.

Nordman is known as one of the more radical thinkers to have emerged from the late-’60s Los Angeles scene, but chances to see gatherings of her pieces, particularly in the US, are rare. This is unfortunate, given her work’s affinities with and influence on multiple generations of artists—ranging from Michael Asher and the practitioners of relational aesthetics to a younger cohort of LA-based artists interested in a fugitive materiality. This show, which was illuminated by natural light only, presented cases for all of that, beginning with another table just to the left of FILMROOM EAT. There one could find, accompanied by two solar-powered flashlights, six copies of GEO-AESTHETICS 2013–PRESENT, an idiosyncratic, monographic-ish, and somewhat didactic “book/sculpture for museums and libraries” that one could peruse with a pair of white gloves.

That spread and the cinematic mise-en-scène of FILMROOM EAT foreshadowed some of the final works that were on view here. In the show’s concluding room, two wooden sculptures—from the series “STANDING PICTURES 1980–PRESENT”—appeared as white-painted storage crates on wheels and brought to mind ekstasis, as the ancient Greeks had it: ek (outside or beyond) and stasis (standing). Each houses sliding frames holding two drawings from the ’80s or ’90s (to PRESENT, of course) that the viewer could pull out and inspect with more flashlights. The “framing” furthered the connection to the now, allowing a deliberate isolation of attention from a jumble of things to just one.

Driving home the importance of presence and the present was a final work located beyond the white cube. The undated THE WHISPER belongs to a group of Nordman’s pieces that overtly invite participation. It’s a work she’s enacted in various places but rarely announces beforehand (and it was not mentioned on this show’s checklist). For these spontaneous events, Nordman and “persons met by chance” perform an action in Central Park, “specific to the time and place of the chance meeting.” I wasn’t able to catch any of these events and there are no records available. But this all seems very much to the point. After all, Nordman’s work is shown rarely, its memory preserved—like that of these performances—partly via word of mouth. The performances also feed into an expansive notion of the present, as an endless horizon we travel along. The curious dialectic that ensues between a fleeting ephemerality and the being-there-ness of her output is indeed a form of ekstasis, and of ecstasy, to be sure.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler