Fred Camper: GILLIAN BROWN at I Space, Chicago Reader

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Insight Out, Video Installation,
2000, Gillian Brown
Gillian Brown projects video onto three-dimensional objects, some of which are transparent so that the imagery is also seen behind them; her free-floating illusions definitely undercut the idea of picture as truth. Born in New Hampshire in 1951 and now living in Fairfield, Iowa, she began questioning representation and perception by painting imagery from photographs on three-dimensional installations–putting pictures of family members, for example, on a staircase like one in her childhood home. Then she became friends with painter Inga McCaslin Frick: “We were both interested in exploring perceptual issues and thinking about how we think,” Brown says. Frick moved into video, and Brown collaborated with her before making her own video sculptures, four of which are on view at I Space (along with a solo work of Frick’s and a colloboration with her).

Brown’s fragile magic recalls the charm of lantern shows, stereoscopic slides, and shadow puppetry, configuring images as conjurer’s tricks. And the way she includes lenses makes optics and eyesight explicit subjects. In an untitled work, images are projected on two glovelike hands hanging in a birdcage as well as on a cloth screen at the back of it. Projected on the left hand are two hands that appear to build a house of cards while a card house on the right keeps falling down. At another point a magician releasing a bird is projected on one hand, then it flies from one hand to the other. A lens at the back of the cage focuses on the screen a video image of skaters and divers–Brown calls them “people who broke loose.” Creating tension between opposites, the piece juxtaposes freedom and entrapment, construction and destruction.

The relationship between what we see and what we know is the subject of Insight Out, inspired by a diagram of human sight in an essay by Rene Descartes. The sculptural element consists of wires extending from the outline of a hand, then crossing and ending at an upside-down image on the retina. On the rear of the bulb, sandblasted so that it will hold an image, Brown projects a video of herself writing on a blackboard. Her marks are simple vertical strokes, as if she were counting, but occasionally more complex chalk drawing appear: cuneiform signs, a diagram of the Pythagorean theorem. Language and mathematics seem at once invocations of the world and arbitrary games of mark making; by encasing her blackboard imagery within a model of the eye, Brown underlines the dependence of knowledge on subjective human perception.

Copyright (c) Fred Camper 2003
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