A body (or something resembling a body) tied into a shroud rolls down a long stairway, in Brookline artist Denise Marika’s jarring and powerful new video installation “Downrush” at Axiom Gallery. The scene is projected twice, from floor to ceiling at both ends of a darkened gallery, but the action doesn’t synch up. I watched seated on one of two wooden benches running the length of the room. They resemble the stairs in the videos, and somehow implicate us in what’s going on. The body – bound and helpless or maybe dead – tumbles down with a gut-wrenching thump, thump, thumping.
Unless you touch the gallery walls you might not notice that three of them are dotted with braille. The wall under the projection at left apparently features passages from the Jewish Torah. The wall under the projection at right is dotted with passages from the Moslem Koran. And the empty wall running the length of the gallery between offers text from the Christian Bible.
In a side gallery, which has the feeling of a tiny monk’s cell, you can peruse the sacred books. Marika cites much of the book of Genesis, with its tales of creation, the great devastating flood of Noah, the tower of Babel, murder and trickery. She references Leviticus with its codes of behavior, punishment (“Anyone who inflicts an injury on his neighbor shall receive the same in return. Limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth!”) and atonement. The Biblical Gospel of Matthew offers a tale of an ungenerous man “handed … over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.”
I didn’t read everything, but besides the violence and codes of behavior, I noted repeated references to blindness as a metaphor for those whose judgment is more true because they are less easily distracted and deceived. In the Biblical Gospel of John, Jesus miraculously gives sight to a blind man, who as a result recognizes Jesus as a “prophet.” The Biblical letter of Paul to Christians in Rome reports: “in hope we are saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”
The reading becomes tedious though, like trudging through extensive footnotes.
Back in the main room, a wall text explains that Marika is mulling our complicity in and passive witnessing of war, genocide, violence, death. But to put it that way feels reductive. The power of the piece is visceral: that relentless heart-sickening thumping.
Denise Marika, “Downrush” in “Witness” exhibit, Axiom, 141 Green St., Oct. 12 to Dec. 1, 2007.
Related: I wrote (briefly) about Marika’s work previously in this preview of the 2007 Boston Cyberarts Festival.