Immersive Viewing: Michelle Menzies’s “Liquid and Mobile States” sucks you in

(courtesy of the artist)

Sitting against the east and west walls of DOVA Temporary, the single-room exhibition space of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, three video projectors send images onto three rectangular, acrylic sculptures arranged in zig-zag fashion through the center of the space. The show is titled “Liquid and Mobile States” and was created by Michelle Menzies, a New Zealand artist and current graduate student in the UofC English department. It includes audio by Max Alexander and cinematography by Ivan Ross.

Each of Menzies’s three projectors plays footage of summery oceans and trees, with cinematography that focuses on the various effects of the sunlight beaming through the leaves and onto the water. Two of the sculptures in the center are opaque and reflect their videos onto the walls they face, so that both side walls show reflections of the video images. Sometimes a red or orange coloring starts to seep into the corners of a scene, but disappears quickly. Every so often, a flash of this color briefly dyes the scene playing on one of the sculptures. The scenes last from between ten and thirty seconds and then shift abruptly, in an irregular tempo. Two sound projectors sit against the north wall, playing what sound like footsteps approaching and then fading away.

Menzies works with time-based media, specifically with video installation art, a genre she describes as “an expanded cinema tradition.” Her work builds on traditional cinema by breaking down time and space in an effort to immerse viewers in an all-around sensory experience of the art. The artist explains that the three videos are “three different channels of image, almost like three different layers” in that experience. They were edited in relation to each other and are meant to be somewhat synced, but not completely. The audio track was recorded in a different place and time, and “adds the fourth layer” to the piece, she continues. Menzies hopes that viewers will experience the exhibit at their own pace: “I want to encourage walking through the space…I want people to get lost in the little details of the light.”

Though the work is based on three films of various scenes in nature, Menzies suggests that it is “more like reading a book” than seeing a film, since a book can be picked up and put down at the reader’s discretion. Likewise, viewers choose how to experience “Liquid and Mobile States.” In some ways, the exhibit allows its viewers more freedom than a book does: it has no plot and does not aim to provoke a specific emotional reaction. The experience of it depends heavily on the reflections of individual viewers and the choices they make as they look, listen, and move around the pieces.
As intended, the viewers at the opening reception last Friday explored the work in various ways. Over and over, viewers moved around and in between the sculptures, studying their own reflections. As they walked, the shadows of their legs moved against the images and scenes on the sculptures, and across the reflections cast on the walls. Several observers studied the sculptures up close, fascinated by the varied effects the video projection created on the outer and inner surfaces of the sculptures.

“Liquid and Mobile States” is not site-specific, but this particular version is: Menzies explains that the zig-zag arrangement was done purposely for the narrow room of DOVA Temporary. One viewer remarked that the piece made her feel as if she were at Promontory Point in the summertime, a feeling we may all be missing this time of year.
DOVA Temporary Gallery, 5228 S. Harper Ave. Through January 30. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5pm. (773)702-1234.