Los Angeles has recently been home to several large-scale immersive image environments. A cynical perspective would suggest this is due to museums’ waning importance and the subsequent need to attract viewers with big, sparkling, cinematic images. Further, the easy mixing of disparate cultures and histories in massive mash-ups of artists and image-based technology suggests a utopian global village and a narrative of unity and harmony wrought by digital tools. But Decter and Erdman, as well as Santa Monica Museum Director Elsa Longhauser, resist being subsumed by such a pessimistic view. Acknowledging the increasing presence of technologies of surveillance and communication in everyday life and an ensuing familiarity with technology that makes immersive environments compelling, they instead point to a broader history of exhibition design and the fact that no exhibition, whether overtly designed or not, is neutral. “In a sense, exhibition design is always about amplifying meaning,” says Decter. “And it is always a carrier of meaning, whether it’s done in a conventional way, or if it takes more risks and involves media, immersiveness and interactivity.”
With “Dark Places,” the sense of anxiety, trauma and, in some cases, hopefulness that emerges from the show’s amazing array of artworks (see sidebar) is made material by the organism that houses the images. So, rather than just being aboutdark places, the show isa dark place, and we’re invited into the monster and left to find our own way through its glowing, responsive body.
One of the rear projection screens featuring the work of 76 international media artists
DARK PLACES | Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica | Through April 22
The eight programs that make up “Dark Places” vary in length from 45 minutes to five hours, and feature an extraordinary array of works from around the world. One of the delights is Francis Alÿs’ 20-minute video Nightwatch,commissioned last year by London’s National Portrait Gallery (and for which the artist released a fox into the gallery after hours — surveillance cameras tracked the animal as it prowled through the darkened galleries, pawed at some paintings, and finally curled up sleepily on a table). In Fiorenza Menini’s Corridor,a woman lies on the floor in a long hallway, and while very little happens beyond that, there is a feeling of dread, due in part to the way the space recalls the long, scary hallways of The Shining.Other projects include still photographs — the images of delicate, sinuous cement that make up Catherine Opie’s “Freeway” series, for example, appear at 15-second intervals, while Wim Wenders is represented with a single photograph of a Havana street. There is also documentation of artworks, as in images that depict architectural team Diller + Scofidio’s Blur Building, the experimental clothing designed by Lucy Orta and Gregor Schneider’s eerie “Die Familie Schneider,” for which the artist duplicated his home, creating an experience of uncanny parallel realities. There are also quick clips from well-known feature films like Taxi Driver.The sensibilities regarding urban existence vary greatly among the disparate works, from the very dark and unsettling to the more hopeful or pragmatic. But curator Joshua Decter is less interested in homogeneity than in collisions and intersections. His show will delight those with curiosity and a willingness to cobble together meaning independent of wall text. —H.W.