The Outsiders Compass Series and Film.
At Max Fish
April 2004 Art In America
Marguerite Van Cook at The Proposition
Marguerite Van Cook is a New York artist who worked with DC Comics and formerly ran the Lower East Side gallery Ground Zero with her husband, James Romberger. Van Cook began work on the video Funky Shui in New York (2003) with the notion that she would travel through New York and improve the city’s energy potential through the Chinese practice of environmental correction known as feng shui. According to its practitioners, feng shui involves an understanding of geographic orientation and electromagnetic energy in the balancing of opposites and the releasing of blocked energy. Van Cook writes that she came to realize that improving the universe was an improbable task, and so begins this 8-minute video projection by acknowledging in on-screen text, “Some things are best left alone,” punctuated with the track of a percussive base line. Van Cook constructs a filmic ritual, viewed in jump cuts and montage, that incorporates images associated with feng shui, beginning with a vat of living frogs—in China, traditionally linked to wealth—moving in undulations of acidic purple- green water. In close-up, a woman (the artist) appears, costumed in headscarf, lipstick and sunglasses. Next comes imagery of a small courtyard of brick and stone and a narrow passageway, the sort of corridor associated in feng shui with the escalation of energy. The frogs appear again, and daffodils fill the screen. A figure veiled in white goes by. In the courtyard, the woman rocks in a folding chair, head thrown back, mouth stretched wide. A boy faces into a corner, then out, as though spinning. There is a jump cut to the bared back of a kneeling figure, the back gracefully inscribed with an ancient text concerning harmony and rulers. There are cuts to the veiled figure and flowers and to a nude man in carnival mask. The woman walks down Orchard Street, or somewhere similar, inspecting merchandise on the sidewalk. Through the legerdemain of digital editing, a postcard like still of the masked man recedes into the distance, falling away from a close-up of tulips, and then the man sits on a couch. And so it goes. In a text accompanying this exhibition, Van Cook describes her fascination with still images derived from film. For her, these moments exhibit a quality that surpasses the power of ordinary photographs. With that in mind, she intended Funky Shui as a source for the creation of such images. In an adjacent room, the artist installed four chromogenic color prints that are composites constructed of such frame grabs. These iconic images formally recall not only their immediate source but the work of generations of avant-garde filmmakers, from Bunuel and Dali to Jack Smith, shifting away from the confines of narrative to build structures made of dreams. —Edward Leffingwell