WARD SHELLEY The Cubeby Lori Ortiz
PIEROGI 2000 | SEPTEMBER 7 – OCTOBER 8, 2001
Last fall at Eyewash Gallery, during the Elsewhere weekend, Ward Shelley exhibited a penciled map networking the Williamsburg art community. With inherent humor, the normally hushed politics were set down on paper with neither apology nor judgment. It was a magnification of our reality; a print, a photograph.
In The Cube, Shelley creates a giant photo lab/studio where the focus is on our kinesthetic sense. As travelers in his 100-foot labyrinthine intestine, moving through his funhouse chambers, we explore mobility and our position in time and space. Shelley arranges, by appointment, an intimate journey with consenting subjects/viewers. 15 video cameras implanted in The Cube record the experience; still prints and interior scenes are on view as part of the exhibit, and archived in Pierogi’s video library. The film The Great Escape was an early inspiration for Shelley’s recurrent theme of tunnel vision. Fantastic Voyage comes to mind as well.
In his elaborate and eloquent set for the funhouse experience, we are not merely passing through, but something is being asked of us. A few relatively unimposing challenges are required, such as making an appointment with the artist to go through the maze and choosing options for the photo opportunity. The 10 minute journey is a comfortable challenge for most. The digital record of our emotional responses to this unusual situation is the finale hurdle. In The Cube’s ergonomically designed interior, we are aware of our own personal space. Unlike an elegant playground jungle gym, this sculpture/architectural installation invites critical response. The art ignites consciousness of ourselves within its limited microcosm.
As in Voyager (1998), which Shelley constructed in Socrates Park, a particular function is isolated: locomotion. Shelley magnifies and analyzes movement, and thus he causes us to notice it in detail, to study it, the way the 19th century flower painter Henri Fantin-Latour causes us to notice the transparency of a pansy petal. In Marseille, France (2000), Shelley built a tunnel around the gallery space. Video cameras surveilled the workers’ progress. His interest in the resulting images on the video monitors inspired him to build The Cube.
This photobooth at K-Mart or Coney Island comes to mind. The structure is also reminiscent of Martin Landau and Greg Morris crawling through a Hollywood studio air conditioning duct on the set of Mission: Impossible. The sense of community that Shelley builds in the shared experience of The Cube fulfills art’s function of provoking self-conscious, critical discussion. A total gesamtkunstwerk around our sojourn in The Cube is the mission, should we choose to accept it.