Visual Art

By Julianna Thibodeaux

Cynthia Pachikara

Herron Gallery

Through Feb. 19

Cynthia Pachikara, 'Untitled Installation'

Technology doesn't have to be anathema to the creative spirit. In the right hands, well-intentioned ones, we gain a lot, and in the case of Cynthia Pachikara, her video-installation approach has a meditative quality that belies the usual frenetic pace of such installation art.

Pachikara, whose so-called interactive video art is on view in Herron Gallery's spacious new galleries, takes viewers into her world and then into their own by inviting us into the shadows of her projections. Those who are inclined towards psychology (like me) should get excited about such metaphorical notions; and to some extent, I do. I also realize, in visiting Pachikara's work, how reluctant I am to play the game - the participation game, that is.

The afternoon I walked into the gallery, I was the sole visitor, allowing me ample opportunity to indulge in casting my own shadow into each of the three large-sized screens in turn. The space was dark, and the two gallery attendants (or one, plus a companion) were quite preoccupied with their hushed conversation, punctuated by bursts of laughter. But I hesitated, perhaps unnerved by the laughter - stepping gingerly around the small circle of white emanating from the first video projection box. Don't want to get in the way of the art, I surely was thinking; but then I had to remind myself: that was the point. Get in the way of it, and see what happens. Casting a self-conscious glance over my shoulder, I stepped in.

In the first screen, "X, Y, Z," I saw my shadow fill with droplets of water cascading down a windshield, the street's dividing lines brushing past in quick strokes. In "Taking Place," two perpendicular walls held the projection of scenes outside a car window: a blur of trees, sky, sometimes both, sometimes other indiscernible things. Again, I saw my form, a looming, black figure abstracted by the outlines of my long winter coat, fill up with these scenes. Finally, on the farthest wall, a projection in the shape and image of Earth was teeming with tiny lights. As the narrative began, I learned these were luna moths; then the scene turned white. White room, white door; a woman walks through it, or the shadow of one, and she narrates her story: "My Master is a Collector." A collector of luna moths, that is - indeed, another metaphor, in this case for her relationship with "Master Peter Perry." The dark woman croons in a poetry-slam voice, "I read about how luna moths commit all their energy to finding a mate ... Master Perry wanting me to see that page ... larvae goes in, luna moth comes out ... " and on it goes, at some point referencing Angels & Insects, A.S. Byatt's rich but disturbing novel.

Here is where Pachikara most directly references identity, and the viewer has to decide whether to fit into her projection or not. Is it universal or not? This is not as simple as stepping into the line of projection and filling your shadow with luna moths.

Pachikara, who is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, jointly appointed at the School of Art and Design and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, explores identity in much of her work. Having exhibited widely in venues such as the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis, Consolidated Works in Seattle and Fassbender Gallery in Chicago, Pachikara is now developing these shadow installations as public artworks intended for "unwitting pedestrians in outdoor, urban settings." She allows a truly accessible opportunity, then, to participate in art - whether she's asking us to step into her own family history in India or the projected views of someone from another culture, ourselves included. What we see when we step into her shadows is indeed our own - and only we can truly fill in the void.

Cynthia Pachikara's video installations are on view at Herron Galleries, Herron School of Art & Design, 735 W. New York St., on the IUPUI campus, through Feb. 19. Galleries are open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Thursdays during exhibitions. Exhibitions are free and open to the public. Parking available in the IUPUI garage west of Herron. For more information, call 317-278-9419.

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