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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Current Chelsea Picks

Still from Pawel Wojtasik's The AquariumTwo shows in Chelsea have caught my attention over the last couple weeks.

At Alona Kagan Gallery, Pawel Wojtasik is screening his latest video project, The Aquarium. Filmed mainly at the Sea Life Center in Seward, AK, the work juxtaposes the unbounded expanse of Alaska's Resurrection Bay with the close confinement experienced by sea mammals held in captivity at the aquarium.

Much like Wojtasik's earlier work Dark Sun Squeeze, the long gaze and rhythmic flow of the piece force viewers into a meditative state while calling attention to a deeper issue--in this case, the aquarium as simulacrum of a natural environment that is rapidly disappearing. When I visited Seward in 2003, I was standing at the edge of the bay right next to the Sea Life Center when I spotted a large sea mammal swimming in the waters just off shore. Why, I wondered, would anyone choose to visit a re-creation of this breathtaking natural environment when the real thing existed right there? Wojtasik raises that question, along with others about humans' treatment of the environment and the ethics of animal captivity, in this transfixing piece.

Andrea Zittel, Personal UniformsI've had Andrea Zittel's show at the New Museum, Critical Space, listed in the sidebar for a few weeks now, but I haven't posted anything about it. I'm still not completely decided about the exhibition, but the fact that I keep returning to think about it tells me that there's something of interest there.

Typically when we think of the design process, we think of the end product being a mass-produced item. Zittel works very much in the design tradition, and I find that I'm intrigued by her embrace of design practices for her projects. Her creation of one-offs and functional (but not mass-marketable) objects somehow elevates the outputs she produces to being contemplative objects that still retain their full functionality.

Not all her work is of the same quality, though. Many of the small paintings and the conceptual project documented in a large photo-based installation fall flat. But Zittel's clothing and live/work spaces force viewers to rethink their own relation to the products with which they surround themselves every day.

Pawel Wojtasik, The Aquarium, at Alona Kagan Gallery through March 4, 2006.

Andrea Zittel, Critical Space, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art through May 27, 2006.

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