ICA has three exhibition spaces: a vast ocean liner of a gallery downstairs; a nice-sized fishing boat of a gallery upstairs; and behind that, like the dinghy the bigger vessels tow behind them for rowing to shore, the Project Space—650 square feet where exhibitions of emerging artists or experimental installations are presented. Last week I heard a couple of curators talking about how much they like that space, what a treat it is to organize art for it. Maybe it’s related to the way restaurant appetizers often give more pleasure than the main course. Just a bit of something can be precious—delicious—can be, as in the story of Goldilocks, just right.
Right now the Project Space is hosting Still, Flat, and Far, an exhibition of the work of Erin Shirreff, a sculptor who also works in photography and video. One of my favorite pieces is Moon, a video of that faithful satellite projected onto a screen that angles slightly out from the wall, perhaps to clue us in that something is askew. As you watch the video, the moon appears to wax and wane, yet something is odd about it. The lit portion and the shadowed portion are subtly unfamiliar. It turns out this isn’t a video of the moon at all, but a video of a handful of photographs of the moon that Shirreff took into her studio, shone light onto from various angles, and captured with her camera. It’s quite wonderful to look at it: our familiar moon doing an unfamiliar dance. In its “Picks” section ArtForum, writing about this piece, refers to “the thingness of this particular work,” which I think is wonderful. Every thing should have its thingness.
Shirreff really is interested in exploring what you might well call thingness: how a monument or a landscape (or moonscape) is distorted or transformed by the way we look at it. Certain inaccessible artworks are best known through iconic photographs, and those of us who’ve never seen the Grand Canyon think we know what it looks like because the camera’s limited eye has offered it up to us from a certain point of view. As exhibition curator Lucy Gallun writes, “Shirreff’s work explores how images of extraordinary landmarks and artifacts become seared into cultural memory through their persistent reproduction, and how our vision of them is shaped as much by their reproduction as by our own experience.”
Lucy Gallun is not at ICA anymore. She had a one-year Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellowship (WLCF) with us in 2009-10, and now she is working in the photography department at MoMA and finishing her PhD at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These WLCFs permit young curators who have participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program to come to ICA for a year to do a kind of apprenticeship. While they’re here we keep them pretty busy. Last year Lucy curated Everyday Imaginary, a video show, also in the Project Space, that explored animation (I’ll never forget those ants carrying bits of bright post-Carnaval glitter over the leafy ground in Cao Guimarães and Rivane Neuenschwander’s Quarta-Feira de Cinzas.) She also helped teach a class for Penn undergraduates called “Writing Through Art and Literature,” coordinated ICA’s education programming, and worked on the “queer” catalogue for Ingrid Schaffner’s Queer Voice exhibition, among other things. We miss her, and we’re excited that Lucy will be back in Philadelphia on December 8 to introduce a conversation between Erin Shirreff and Penn’s new contemporary art professor, Kaja Silverman.
Still, Flat, and Far will close on December 5, and another exhibition, The Illuminations Project, will open in the dinghy in January. From moonlight to other kinds of illuminations: I think that’s just right.