Saturday night I attended Danielle Roney’s “Genesis Trial: Johannesburg” at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. The first work I encountered was a wall-mounted sculpture of acrylic rods hanging from a strip of aluminum, twisting toward me in a surprisingly organic gesture.
I wasn’t sure whether this modern sculpture was part of Roney’s self-consciously postmodern exhibition, so I consulted the artist statement. Sure enough, it was listed as Invisible Barriers by Danielle Roney. A little confused, I moved on to the next work, a Duratrans print in a lightbox.
Fluid Architecture: Johannesburg 02 (below) delivers exactly what its title promises: a surrealistically morphed cityscape. Does it evoke the “entangled journeys of time and space” and “the physical and virtual lands” Roney mentions in her statement?
Perhaps, I mused, the scene suggests the subjective, individual nature of travel and the constructed nature of its memory. In any case, Fluid Architecture is appealing enough, and its location in an out-of-the-way spot is unfortunate; it is easily missed as the three large screens of eGoli draw the visitor to a second gallery.
By far the show’s strongest work, eGoli is a three-channel video installation. It surrounds the visitor with eight-minute loops of digital animation, a journey past bulbous cloud shapes into a fantastic world of architecture and nature. The experience is otherworldly.
In particular, I appreciated the interrelated visuals of separate screens; the mesmerizing, honeycomb innards of exposed buildings; and the rhinoceros and gazelles floating in bubbles. A snapshot of daily life in Johannesburg repeated in multitude, spinning synchronously with the movement of the interior tube walls.
The accompanying electronica music, though, could be classified as “world muzak.” For me, it distracted from Roney’s videos. Also superfluous: the addition of 0s and 1s to stress the fractal geometry “inspired” by African culture and, allegedly, repeated throughout the videos. I saw little, if any, evidence of fractal patterns.
After the grand elegance of eGoli, I was confused by the installation in the next gallery. Urban Land Cruisers features a rusted-out Toyota blaring snippets of music, dialogue, and video from an iPod Nano mounted on the dashboard. It was difficult to see the screen, and I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable for me to open the doors and get a better view.
Illuminated by camp lights, some of the vehicle has been deconstructed; the hood is missing and various parts are scattered haphazardly across the hatchback floor. The Georgia emissions sticker on the windshield, coupled with the South African license plate on the rear bumper, offers the feeble suggestion:
This Toyota bridges cultures…as does the global output of this iPod.
The vehicle’s deteriorated state contrasts with the pristine iPod. Does it indicate a “collision of cultures?” Perhaps it implies a vast socio-economic divide. Whatever the interpretation, the stark literalism of Urban Land Cruisers is a gross divergence from the more cerebral eGoli.
The final gallery houses two works, Westcliff Hotel and Migrations. The former is a life-size video of a staff member cleaning a hotel room. Immediately, I was made uncomfortable by the video’s brazen voyeurism and wondered whether the cleaning woman knew she was being filmed.
Then I noticed the hotel floor plan taped off in front of the screen; I was sitting on a white cube that, through simulated space, would have been part of that room. As the woman dusts a piece of furniture, a mirror reflects a second woman’s legs where my own should have been. You can even see the red “on” light of the video camera.
Unfortunately, Roney’s attempt to turn the viewer into a participant lessened the film’s original discomfort. I lost interest and moved on.
Migrations, on the other hand, superimposes animated video “people” on a huge charcoal-on-paper drawing vaguely reminiscent of Eurasia. The drawing itself is quite wonderful, delicately shaded to create the illusion of three-dimensional bulbous forms. Singly and in groups, men and women with varying gaits traverse the paper. Some of the figures march together, military style, and I wondered whether the small, faint red splotches hint at violence. In the end, Migrations is a literal, if artsy, depiction of global travel.
The final work, Africa, is a charcoal rendering of the continent in the same style. After perusing Roney’s pedantic—and at times grammatically confused—statement, I believe the work is intended to represent a later stage in global travel. The experience will “dissolve in the recollection of the traveler” where “the defining forms evolve.”
To me, Africa—and the exhibition as a whole—lacks the psychological dislocation and resolution Roney claims to explore.
“Genesis Trial: Johannesburg” is on view through Sat. Nov. 15. Roney will give an artist talk on Thurs. Oct. 23 at 7PM (reception at 6:30).