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Monday, July 16, 2012

Space and Time 'Within a Stone's Throw'

Cecelia Condit displays works in Madison

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Cecelia Condit is a professor of film and media at UW-Milwaukee who sees her artistic practice akin to being a storyteller. The pieces in her exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art take on stories and metaphors expressed through various landscapes. The focal point is the seven-minute video Within a Stone's Throw, projected on three large screens. The gaze of the viewer is dominated by images of Ireland's rocky, rugged Burren. This strange landscape is on the west coast in County Clare, a place where the topography has worn away, leaving rock formations and ranges of weathered stone among green grasses. In the mid-17th century, British military man Edmund Ludlow famously described the area: "It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him... and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing."

The primary figure in the video is a woman, represented in youth and maturity (played by the artist). She passes through the landscape, a dramatic figure of long hair and vibrant red dress. A stone passes through the air, traversing the rhythms of undulating land. A voice calls out, "One, two, three, everywhere I go is me." Condit reaches out to the universal sense of time and existence, stretching our temporal state of being and our own fragility to touch the vast history of the land.

This vastness was a compelling factor in the conception of the video. As Condit recounts, "I made a film (Annie Lloyd) that covered the last four years of my old mother's life. When her world shrank to the size of her small bed, mine shrank too. I thought that my next piece should be about huge spaces. And old things—like rocks and water. Ireland's Burren, with its rocky coastline, was perfect. I could turn my thoughts to time (both past and future) and space, as it pertains to our planet."

Photographs in the exhibition communicate along similar lines, though with an added dimension of fantasy. The large photographs are composites, built of shots taken by Condit in the waters of Lake Michigan. The roiling liquid is often contained in a spherical shape, appearing as perhaps liquid, perhaps ice, perhaps gaseous cloud. The familiarity of earthly substance is disrupted. Rocks, boulders or stones create bubbling eddies while steam or spray rises. This concept is drawn out in video form in World, visible from State Street outside. It is an admirable idea, though on sunny afternoons the glare on the plate glass makes it hard to see, and the video image is lost under reflections of the sign from Nick's Restaurant across the street. But then again, that is the world, too.

Cecelia Condit: Within a Stone's Throw is on view through Sept. 23 at Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison.