I was elated to hear the reopening of CCA included a reprisal of Chris Jonas’ colossus, Garden.
The exhibition was unceremoniously cut short in December when CCA nearly folded, so I’m glad the venue is honoring its commitment to a project that is very involved and worth the visit.
I could describe Garden, but that might not help you imagine it, let alone understand it. For comprehension—though I’m not making guarantees—you must go to CCA with time to kill. I also recommend comfortable shoes.
The 50-minute video and sound installation, which takes up the entirety of the vast Muñoz Waxman Gallery, runs on a loop; however, I don’t get the sense one needs to be punctual. In fact, when I viewed the installation in December, I’m not sure at what point I entered or exited.
I stayed for what I decided was the duration and witnessed what I believed to be an ending, but I am only basing this on the assumption that a fade-out and a total absence of sound constitutes an end—a silly conceit considering the abundance of blackness throughout the work.
For the first few minutes I was unable to see anything. The windows were masked with Hefty bags. The difference between the afternoon sun and the darkness indoors provoked an optical malfunction, freezing me in the doorway.
A string quartet plays just loud enough to block out the ambient sound of, say, other people in the room who may or may not be able to see you. This made me very anxious, wondering if I was being surveilled, possibly at close proximity. I remember urging my eyes to adjust. It was the most fearful I have ever felt at an art gallery, and I vowed to eat more carrots.
The tone of the music didn’t help calm me. The piece most resembles a movie score, in particular the part of the film when the protagonist realizes his or her companion has been the killer all along, complete with slicing diminished scales and pizzicati that dance like spiders down your neck. If someone had let out a hysterical laugh, I might have tried to run home.
Eventually my eyes calibrated to their surroundings and I could navigate the room. I even found some chairs to sit in or swing at would-be attackers. Once seated, I was better able to see the layout of the video.
The most readable projection is that of the quartet’s performance, shown on a floating screen. Forming a cubed enclosure around the performers are four sheer black screens that catch ethereal images of which very little is discernible. A sixth channel is projected onto the rear wall, creating a backdrop of landscapes at night.
Overall, I am not sure what to think. The fact that this work is subtitled “Chapter One” suggests it is incomplete and should be interpreted as such, but it also connotes a linear progression, and I’m not convinced I finished further along.
For the exhibit’s debut, the score was performed live, which no doubt provided insight into the piece’s time line. A perusal of Jonas’ statement is of little help in the matter.
He writes: “It is suggestive without being specific: no two people hear a piece of music or have an experience in the darkness the same way.”
While this may be true, I feel our collective experiences can be qualified and shaped by the intentions of the artist. And I contend the emotive quality of music is not purely neutral. Granted, not everyone may feel as threatened as I did, but I would be surprised to hear that someone found the experience joyful.
At any rate, Jonas attempts something grand with Garden. It contains beautiful sequences, both visually and sonically. Whatever one’s opinion, it is a rare to see something of this scale and ambition.
Chapter one: “Night”
Reception 7-9 pm Friday, Feb. 26
Through March 26
Center for Contemporary Arts Muñoz Waxman Gallery
1050 Old Pecos Trail