In Case You Missed It: Set for an Altered StateSeptember 20, 2011
Wind, like energy, is hard to visualize except in its effect, action, or aftermath. What we see is tousled hair or an overturned lawn chair. Similarly, while we certainly appreciate that the lights come on when the switch is flipped and that we feel our socks stick when we take them out of the dryer, it still takes a certain amount of faith to believe in electrons. In Lauren Marsden’s recent exhibition at Oakland's Sight School, Set for an Altered State, “absent presence” seemed the name of the game. An artist known for her performance work presented an installation that resembled an empty stage set: the aftermath of a happening that never happened. And since Marsden also had to move back to Vancouver from the Bay Area just after the opening, she inhabited this show in a way that was doubly phantomic. Sight School's front window displayed a discarded swimsuit buried in a pile of dirt, crowned with a beauty pageant-style sash emblazoned with the initials “D.O.E.”
In the past, Marsden’s work has shown an interest in the bureaucratization and administration of the natural resources we ought to be sharing. Those familiar with this aspect of her work might know that the glamorized bureaucrat who might have worn this costume was a character she sometimes inhabits for her performances. If this wasn't already clear, a lit podium
cradling a crisp transcript ready for official declaration, a freestanding flagpole with a shiny flag inflated by artificial wind from an electric fan, and a video of windmills spinning at irregular and disrupted rhythms should have be more than enough indication that the acronym on the sash stood in for "Department of Energy." Sight School, like Marsden, is soon to withdraw from our Golden State landscape as an active and immediately visible presence, but both forces leave us with lasting and thought-provoking effect.