Vilma Gold, London
4 April – 30 June 2012
Trisha Baga’s three projection installations feel like a head-on collision between someone’s home video collection and the props department from Pee Wee’s Playhouse, leaving us to muse over the wreckage. Boxes, wires, and various odd objects litter the floor, while projector light casts long shadows across the gallery. A portable stereo covered in spray-on rock blocks off the bottom part of the video of Plymouth Rock (all works 2012). The eponymous rock was a stone declared (121 years after the ‘fact’) the first solid thing stood on by the Mayflower pilgrims to the USA, moved, split and repaired numerous times since then. Baga re-interprets its story as a disjointed, multi-layered sensual adventure: what appear like someone’s holiday videos – visits to the zoo, the beach, and to the Plymouth Rock itself – are digitally cut up, drawn on, subtitled, dubbed, and wiped over. ‘My body wasn’t made for this’, a caption states, as if bemoaning its dismemberment.
In a highly orchestrated dance, Baga pulls out every cinematic and theatrical fourth-wall trick in the book, with a mismatched cut-up soundtrack that includes music from American Beauty, Gloria Estefan’s ‘Rhythm is Gonna Get You’, and occasional low, muttering voices. Paintings hung on the wall are occasionally lit up, framed by shapes within the projected image itself, while paint-like swirls float around the screen. Wave-like digital squiggles appear on top of actual sea footage. Baga recognises the screen as a space we invest ourselves in, but also seems interested in finding out what sort of space it becomes when you get all hyper-Brechtian on it, or as one narrator from Plymouth puts it, to “find that place where I stop and you begin so you can go there and the place where we are can get bigger and bigger”.
But in this search Baga also indulges the urge to spell out the paradox of the fractured surface on every level. In Soft Rock, a small bust of a Greek warrior is cracked in two, his head sitting atop a Justin Beiber book, his shoulder on the other side of the room. We get it: the body is fractured, but still legible. In Hard Rock, a 3D digital rendition of a cardboard box revolves in the projection, several real cardboard boxes scattered on the floor. So yes, the experience of the pixel box is different from the ‘real’ box, even more so when your 3D glasses keep turning themselves off. But where often-mentioned artists like Ed Atkins and Helen Martens explore the digital-physical ravine with video and sculpture trade-offs, Baga seems to locate the issue more precisely in our own skipping, tangled processes of attention. ‘Rock’ suggests that the patchwork history of the Plymouth rock, and the formation of any narrative, is like the window-dodging clicking of on-screen computer browsing, or the collage of listening to the radio while driving through the advertising-soaked city. Between the shadows, images within the images, and echoing sounds, it’s all just layers to be collected and navigated. We’re left as ghostly beachcombers, asked to accept there is no whole we can ever piece together.
Originally published in Art Review 61, September 2012