'Blind Eye': Clark landscapes inspire video installation at Jennifer Steinkamp exhibition

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The first exhibit of video installations at the Clark Art Institute isn't just expanding the Williamstown institution's visual landscape; it's drawing inspiration from it.

At "Jennifer Steinkamp: Blind Eye," the media and installation artist's title piece depicts a forest of swaying, computer-generated birch trees that Steinkamp modeled after the Clark's physical surroundings. Like the exhibition's other projections, "Blind Eye" will be shown through Oct. 8 at the Lunder Center at Stone Hill. But gallerygoers won't have to wait until that time of year to see the leaves turn. To stand for a few minutes in front of the wall-covering video is to see foliage acquire fall hues, disappear for winter, bud in spring and engulf in summer. A natural effect appears to hasten this metamorphosis.

"There's a kind of constant wind blowing," Steinkamp said during a June 29 exhibit preview, the pixalated trees oscillating behind her.

The trees' exaggerated movements ascribe a human quality to them that accentuates the 12-foot-by-43-foot (by two inches) work's focus: the bark. White and gray birch skins contain dark oval scars that resemble eyes. Steinkamp described her creation as bringing something to life "but not simulating life."

The trees' movement and dense layering challenges viewers' depth perception.

"The composition is a play on monocular perspective, with no forest floor or way out," Steinkamp writes on her website.

The artist produced "Blind Eye" over a period of about five months, visiting the Clark multiple times to inform her work.

"It would be nice to live here," said Steinkamp, who is based in Los Angeles but has work in museums and collections around the world.

To generate her projections, Steinkamp manipulates code in a software program. She considers each element, or "texture," in a work before bringing them all together. With the trees, for example, she created them as if they were going to be viewed from all angles.

"They're like sculptures in the computer," she said.

External light affects the viewer's perception of "Blind Eye." The video can be seen reflected in an adjacent window that offers a glimpse of the Stone Hill woods.

"The light in the space is important because the architecture is part of the work," Steinkamp said, noting that the "Blind Eye" room has substantial ambient light.

"In many ways, Jennifer disrupts architecture," said Esther Bell, the museum's Robert and Martha Berman Lipp senior curator and curator of painting and sculpture.

The exhibit's other room houses the remainder of the installations: "Premature, 6" (2010), "Rapunzel, 5" (2005), "Fly to Mars, 6" (2006), "Fly to Mars, 9," (2009) and "Diaspore, 2" (2014). The connection to the natural world from "Blind Eye" isn't lost upon entering the darker space, but the projections are more abstract. "Rapunzel" alludes to the character from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale who has golden hair and bad parents. The piece uses floral imagery to evoke her story.

"Stem and vine, leaf and flower, all come together to form the virtual tapestry that is equal parts Rapunzel's cascading hair and the fruits of the forbidden garden that furnishes her name," writes Lisa Saltzman, Starr director of the Clark Art Institute's Research and Academic Program, in the exhibit's catalog.

Steinkamp feels a strong connection to Rapunzel.

"This piece is a self-portrait," she said.

The "Fly to Mars" works further demonstrate Steinkamp's focus on trees. Unlike "Blind Eye," they are not intended to portray a particular kind of tree.

"It's not meant to be realistic," she said.

This virtual world contrasts with the real one depicted through photographs on view at the Manton Research Center's Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper. "A City Transformed: Photographs of Paris, 1850-1900" includes 30 photos documenting architectural changes in the French capital during the latter part of the 19th century. douard Baldus, Charles Marville and and Louis- mile Durandelle are among the photographers featured in the exhibit that will run through Sept. 23.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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