Review: Helen Rebekah Garber: Numbers, and Eva Schlegel, Solo Exhibition
HELEN REBEKAH GARBER, NUMBERS, AND EVA SCHLEGEL, SOLO EXHIBITION
The lights are dim in the gallery and a somewhat loud, mechanical hum fills the space. To the right of the entrance is an 8-foot-diameter rotor of spinning fan blades that creates a round, slightly flickering surface. Though the sound emanating from it clearly indicates its power, the piece surprisingly does not produce any wind. The round surface of the rotor has a planetary innuendo, which reiterates the themes of the two intermittent films by Eva Schlegel that are projected onto the blades, titled No Man’s Heaven and Rotor Universe. A stanchion surrounds the spinning sculpture-cum-movie-screen to prevent people from coming too close. The piece dazzles from the prescribed viewing distance, and the desire to touch it, to see how it works and to be a part of it is overwhelming. Looking from a farther distance, portions of the film spill beyond the rotor boundaries onto two panels behind it, adding multiple layers and shifts of perception.
In No Man’s Heaven images of people wearing business attire float into view as if in free fall. You look directly up at them from the ground, yet the rotor is installed perpendicularly, so logically one knows that they are facing the work, but there is a distortion of both time and place. Schlegel is interested in the phenomenon of what it is like to inhabit and navigate the lack of gravity in space. She took photographs of professional body flyers in Zurich for the imagery. The business attire the subjects are wearing alludes to modern capitalist dilemmas such as stock market crashes, or the trauma of failure. Any numbers of other readings are also evident, such as 9/11 or perhaps the more morbid suicide—if it were not for the calm, focused, and at-ease expressions of the falling figures. Using text documentation from European, Russian, and American astronauts, phrases whirl in the rotor, sometimes superimposed over the figures, and sometimes on a stark white background. In some instances the large text is bowed, as if it were projected onto a glass ball, while in other cases the text spins like a pinwheel from the center out: “To begin with, you felt like you always want to hang onto something.” By using actual testimonial and subjects wearing everyday clothes, Schlegel is conceptually inviting the viewer to imagine themselves in the feeling of weightlessness: “It wasn´t just me falling, but everything was falling, which gave me an even a more unsettling feeling . . .”