Los Angeles

Lynne Marsh, Ninfa Atlas (detail), 2021, five-channel HD video installation, color, sound. Photo: David Hartwell.

Lynne Marsh, Ninfa Atlas (detail), 2021, five-channel HD video installation, color, sound. Photo: David Hartwell.

Lynne Marsh

Over the considerable course of her career, Canadian artist Lynne Marsh, who is still largely unknown in the United States, has produced just a few projects, all highly ambitious and meticulously realized. Four of these were included in “Who Raised It Up So Many Times,” a tightly executed survey of Marsh’s work, curated by Kimberli Meyer. Everything in this presentation seems to converge around a complex meditation on the nature—or, perhaps better, the character—of our gestures, especially those that we consider to be the most spontaneous, expressive, and free but that on second pass disclose a distinctly preprogrammed, machinic element. More specifically, the actions that concern the artist are those that arise at the seam of art and technology, namely, a space that could be the source for all our behaviors, as Marsh’s art proceeds to make evident: first by tracing quasi-empirically the various lines of exchange that occur between these two aforementioned realms, and second by recomposing them, with no small measure of playful irony, into new forms.

This one-two punch tactic is deployed with the broadest strokes in the earliest piece here, Camera Opera, 2008, a video that involves a repurposed Berlin television studio news set, complete with anchorperson, background screens, lighting, and camera crew, and that serves as the site of an intricately choreographed technological waltz. To the strains of Johann Strauss II’s waltzes, including “The Blue Danube” (1866)—a tune that instantly recalls the orbiting satellites from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—cameras are wheeled around the newscaster in concerted movements that grow increasingly baroque until, in a climactic finale, they wind up twirling around each other. Throughout this piece, the human “talent,” or the star at the center of this particular constellation, is upstaged by her technical gear, which intrudes upon almost every shot. She stands immobile, tensed on her podium as if about to deliver the first word of her report, while all around her the machines and their operators express the full range of their kinesthetic potential. A new kind of gesture is incubated here, passing between moments of physical exuberance and concentrated stasis.

In his final book Gesten. Versuch einer Phänomenologie (Gestures: An Attempt at Phenomenology), published in 1991, Vilém Flusser argues that “modifications we can observe in our gestures allow us to ‘read’ the existential changes we are currently undergoing.” We might add that this is because the content of any form of body language is, at the same time, something age-old. Marsh built Ninfa Atlas, 2021, around the quixotic attempt of art historian Aby Warburg to compile a comprehensive inventory of gestures, as captured in art as well as in popular culture, by peoples spanning the globe and throughout time. From the holdings of the Warburg Institute in London, Marsh selected pictures pertaining to the figure of the nymph, whom Warburg saw, at every stage of her always vigorous appearance, as a herald of the new. These various documents, rephotographed from the existing archive, were assembled into an imagistic “score” that was then passed on to local dancers. The performers were invited to essentially reanimate the nymph’s movements, connecting one frozen pose to the next by means of improvised intervallic passages. These short dance phrases were next enacted in a motion-capture studio, shot from all sides and recomposited into the form of “image assets,” in the telling parlance of video-game manufacturing, that can be rotated in all directions within any scenario of one’s choosing. Finally, in the gallery and on a series of large flat-screen monitors stood up on their sides, each figure, now returned to human scale, went through its motions on a short loop against an ever-changing succession of generic milieus sourced from an online reserve of filmic backdrops. Clad in a second skin rippling with digital artifacts (for instance, in all those zones that the cameras cannot fully penetrate—including mouths, armpits, crotches, and the undersides of fleshy folds—the image breaks down into stuttering fractals), these pointedly de-realized, virtual entities nevertheless evinced no end of empathetic emotion. But even though these “nymphs” were freed from the stasis of art history through technology, they still managed to appear somehow trapped. At once joyful and heartbreaking, Ninfa Atlas tracks the evolution of our gestures as they move between the realms of the aesthetic and the technical, always under threat, lost on one side but then found on the other.