Rock and A Hard Place

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American artist Trisha Baga’s contribution to MoMA PS1’s exhibition New Pictures of Common Objects can only be experienced by two viewers at a time — there are just two sets of anaglyph glasses. Without the glasses, the exhibit, titled Hard Rock, consisting of lo-fi video featuring khaki-clad hikers and penguins exploring an ambiguous stretch of desert land, is difficult to see.

Arranged on the floor of the exhibition space are found and fabricated objects. There are a few sets of sneakers: some are real and well-worn and others are oversized, overstuffed models of sneakers. There are cardboard Amazon boxes splattered with white paint, a cardboard teepee and the foot of a stuffed leopard that is gushing out a pool of dried, warm-colored paint. There are groupings of river rocks, slices of drift wood, a tin foil globe topped with streams of pastel paint, a ceramic model of an ear, a sculpture of a jumbo-sized power cord, a few pieces of roughly crafted white pottery and several paint-covered whiskey bottles. Some of the objects are displayed in clusters and stacks, while others, displaced from the group, rest in the corners.

Baga’s video is projected onto each of these objects and onto viewer’s bodies as they move around them. The projections are physically fragmented and altered by the texture (paint, fur, canvas) and shape of each item. When the desert clips play, the objects look like a child’s artifacts from summer camp—a collection of treasures that were carefully placed around a bedroom. At a point, the desert scene shifts to an unmoving, computer-generated “no video signal” blue. When blue, the objects take on an air of abandonment. Their placements don’t change but each suddenly feels like an eerie, sterile token of loneliness.

Hard Rock is part of a working series about Plymouth Rock, the site in Plymouth, Massachusetts where the pilgrims were said to have landed in 1620. The first written account of the landing didn’t surface until 1740, so its history was recorded as an afterthought. The rock broke into two pieces when townspeople tried to move it and the top half was later relocated to Plymouth’s meeting house. Baga’s work responds to this notion of the creation, recreation and shifting of historical accounts. It considers, without judgment, the point at which history and myth diverge. The fragmentation of the film’s images onto different textures and shapes is a distortion of narrative, just as the legend of Plymouth Rock, and its presence now as a tourist destination, are distortions of some truth. Viewing the film on the objects while wearing the glasses that have been left warm by the last viewer, new associations and memories are brought to mind. Baga allows us to welcome transient, subjective visions that come to us as we experience, and shape, the work.

New Pictures of Common Objects in is on view through March 3 at PS1, Long Island City, Queens.

Photography courtesy of the author

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