PASOS: Video Installations by Marsia Alexander-Clarke is a solo exhibition that features a series of new video works and digital prints on stretched canvas, all completed in 2012. The images are made abstract via small cropped cells of recorded video material which she calls "marks" in loose reference to the mark making involved in drawing and painting. Alexander-Clarke is interested in developing silent video pieces similar to notated musical compositions with the use of small fragments of recorded video material.
Marsia Alexander-Clarke was born and raised in Chile, South America, where her parents were missionaries. She came to the United States when she was sixteen. After extensive studies in painting in New York City in the 1960's she moved to California where she received an MFA from Claremont Graduate School in 1974.
At this time, her two-dimensional work became three-dimensional and her Nomadic Sculpture series was developed. In the late 1980's Alexander-Clarke attended video art and poetry workshops taught by video artist Nancy Buchanan, and was an active participant in Studio X productions at the Pasadena Community Access Corporation in Pasadena, California. In 2001, Alexander-Clarke received an Individual Artist Grant from the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division and the Pasadena Arts Commission. Since the early 2000s, she has exhibited her video installations throughout Southern California. She lives and works in Riverside, California.
A clear interest in rhythm, repetition and movement were evident in Alexander-Clarke's early tower-like sculptures, which she set up in natural areas and then moved to a gallery and displayed as if they were anthropological subjects. Alexander-Clarke's early video work was influenced by the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), who wrote about repeated, absurd actions that commented pointedly upon the human condition. Like Beckett, Alexander-Clarke's early videos were less about narrative and more about "beingness."
After producing some early work in which she herself was the subject, she found that she wanted to look beyond herself. In her first major video piece, "Stretching," 1997, she decided to work with her cousin's wife, Jan, who had Huntington's disease, a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination, with the victim exhibiting abnormal involuntary writhing movements called chorea. The project involved many facets, including four monitors that depicted each of the family members speaking about their experiences of living with a loved one consumed with the disease, while a large projection of Jan hovered above the monitors. This work was shown at UCR/California Museum of Photography in 1998.
Painting has been Alexander-Clarke's primary inspiration, in particular minimal drawings and paintings with repeated lines, such as that found in the work of Agnes Martin, which Alexander-Clarke finds very peaceful. Inspired by such work, Alexander-Clarke began to reduce her own images down to tiny video fragments that she called marks.
Her first extensive use of marks, in 2001 and 2002, Alexander-Clarke worked with a choir to produce two major works in which the recorded video imagery and sound of the choir was reconstructed by cropping the imagery and sound into small fragments (marks). The marks were repeated across the screen many times resulting in an undulating and flowing image-sound experience. This work was shown on twelve monitors, expanding the experience of the single screen.
Alexander-Clarke continued to work with human subjects as material for her marks. However, she eventually became dissatisfied with the source of the imagery. She then began using landscape as her primary source of material and soon turned to her own large garden, which was cultivated by her botanist husband. Filled with a variety or rare and exotic flora, it is located next door to the university's botanical garden.
Another change in her work took place in 2009. A big revelation came to Alexander-Clarke when she came upon an article on painter and sculptor Sol Lewitt in an issue of Art in America. Of course, she knew of his work, but at this moment in her creative venture, she was struck by his simple use of a single line to make an elaborate composition through repetition and reorientation.
Coming back home to her garden as a source of inspiration was like cultivating one's own internal garden, a desired emphasis in Alexander-Clarke's work. This is when she started the series, PASOS, the namesake of the show at UCR/California Museum of Photography (CMP). In these works, she's simplified the video down to using only two or three marks in each composition.
The exhibition is laid out on the mezzanine level of the CMP and has three sections inherent to its architecture.
The front, circular room contains three video diptychs, RITO, LENTO, and JUNTOS. Each composition is developed with the use of two or three "marks," (a thin line or a small rectangle) and an occasional colored rectangle that activate the darkness of the screen. Changes in placement, repetition, and rhythm create a dialog through time. Their titles are in Spanish, and translate poetically. For example, JUNTOS translates as "together" but for Alexander-Clarke, the title is more for easy identification of the video rather than a reference to anything outside of its abstract imagery. She carries through on this sensibility in all of the titles for this show.
Then one walks down a narrow walkway that overlooks the ground floor gallery, passing eight hanging wall panels, each containing a stretched canvas with a digital print of a still from one her videos. Arresting the movement of the video in the canvases underscores the influence on Alexander-Clarke from paintings by artists such as Barnett Newman, John McLaughlin, Agnes Martin and Sol Lewitt. Their stillness emphasizes the quietness and desire for thoughtful attention and contemplation that she aims for in her video work. The walkway functions as a kind of respite from the varying movement in the video installations at either end.
Exiting the walkway, one enters the last of three spaces, a square, back room in which she has installed an environmental video installation. ADENTRO is projected on the back wall. ADENTRO LARGO 1 & 2, 3 & 4, are projected onto the opposite corners. The single channel central composition combines marks in a variety of ways similar to notes in a musical composition, echoing the compositional sensibilities of avant-garde musician Morton Feldman. Since they are visual notations they function in space as well as in time. The two corner compositions each take two of the marks and further develop their compositional articulation. The relationship of all three works will vary throughout the exhibition.
In all of these new works for PASOS, the marks are imbedded with a fleeting reference to nature yet present a deliberate suspension from expectation thereby creating a sense of tension between what is seen and not seen. The linear or rectangular marks are geometrical forms full of texture, color, movement and light. The video screen is used as a dark ground upon which the marks function interactively, developing varied relationships as they move and change through time. The emphasis in these compositions is a focus on the interaction of the tension or harmony created by the marks' internal texture and movement, on the marks' placement, varying durations, and repetition, and on the marks' dynamic relationship to the "negative" space of the rectangular screen. In essence, Alexander-Clarke is interested in creating complex compositions through the least means, while building an atmosphere of attention to a totally visual experience.
PASOS: Video Installations by Marsia Alexander-Clarke is on view at California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, through September 22, 2012. Marsia Alexander-Clarke will give an artist talk on Saturday, July 28, 5-6 p.m., which includes free admission to the museum. It is followed by an opening reception for a new exhibition at CMP, Matt Lipps: HORIZON/S, 6-9 p.m. Information on the exhibitions is available at here, and an audio podcast interview with Marsia Alexander-Clarke can be heard here.
Top image: Installation view of PASOS: Video Installations by Marsia Alexander-Clarke. | Photo: Courtesy of UCR/California Museum of Photography.
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