Tapping the Mirror

Review

Tapping the Mirror

By Sarah Burke August 6, 2015

The curatorial statement for Tapping the Mirror, featuring works by sculptor Brynda Glazier and painter Courtney Johnson, is prefaced with a fitting quote from the late French theorist Jean Baudrillard: "There is nothing more mysterious than a TV set left on in an empty room ... it is as if another planet is communicating with you." Tapping the Mirror, which is currently on view at Royal Nonesuch Gallery, is indeed reminiscent of a portal to another planet of sorts—an alternate world at once foreign and familiar.

The show centers around Negative Joy, a two-channel video installation projected onto one of the gallery's walls. The projection is a 20-minute collage of footage culled from television shows, movies, music videos, and other visual pop-culture artifacts, most of which look to be from the ’70s and ’80s. Each clip is short, only about ten to twenty seconds long, but when recontextualized and edited together by Glazier and Johnson, they produce a cohesive flow. By virtue of being presented together, the clips—whether of a woman lighting a cigarette with a gun-shaped lighter, horror-movie mutants, or dancing space women—are dislodged from their original narratives. These aesthetic fragments take on new meanings and present a skewed but recognizable reflection of popular culture.

Brynda Glazier and Courtney Johnson. Tapping the Mirror, 2015. Installation view. Courtesy of the artists and Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Oakland. Photo Courtney Johnson

Glazier and Johnson achieve this simultaneous sense of familiarity and estrangement in part by highlighting exaggerated and deliberately fantastical media from the past, much of which come off as campy attempts at envisioning new worlds that now often seem like stock retro-futurist tropes. But as the fragments continuously flicker into each other, the video becomes less about the worlds imagined, and more about the modes by which we collectively imagine them. The absurd world that the clips depict is thus only fantastical within the familiar realms of our collective imagination, not pointing to a new reality, but rather one that has always existed alongside the one we take to be "true." This world tangential to ours is the one that exists on the other side of the mirror, a porous barrier that is also analogous to the television screen, or, more abstractly, the mutual process of influence that constantly takes place between media imagery and "real life." To that point, one of the most intriguing segments in Negative Joy is a series of clips of people pulling off their skin to reveal that they are actually a different gender, race, or species underneath.

Royal Nonesuch is a small gallery, and the windows are blacked out for this exhibition. When you watch Negative Joy on the bench provided, your back faces the entrance, which is the only source of light entering the space. During the twenty minutes that I sat watching the video, the world directly outside continued on: My attention was intermittently captured by two friends saying prolonged goodbyes, hugging and yelling endearments at each other; a homeless person and a pedestrian engaging in a short conversation; and an ambulance driving by with siren screeching. Each time I overheard one of these occurrences, I could not help but peek over my shoulder and notice that the bright world outside the door was oddly analogous to the projection I was watching. In this way, the gallery itself became a passage between two worlds, making each seem no less alien or familiar than the other.

Brynda Glazier. Taken from the Sun, 2015. Ceramic, acrylic, and flocking on pedestal. Courtesy of the artist and Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Oakland. Photo: Courtney Johnson. 

Tapping the Mirror also includes one ceramic sculpture by Glazier titled Taken from the Sun. The impressively executed alien-like figure in repose is typical of her otherworldly body of work. Also on view are two paintings by Johnson, both of which depict forms emerging from colorful, wavy textures that match the subtle, hairlike patterning of the exhibition-specific wallpaper she hand-painted and covered the entire gallery in. These works complete Tapping the Mirror’s aesthetic statement, effectively turning the gallery into an immersive installation. But they ultimately come off as supplementary to Negative Joy, which proves to be the exhibition’s mesmerizing focal point. 

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Tapping the Mirror: Brynda Glazier & Courtney Johnson is on view at Royal NoneSuch Gallery, in Oakland, through August 23, 2015.

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