Megan and Murray McMillan

AXIOM Center for New and Experimental Media, Boston

Potter-Belmar Labs

Megan and Murray McMillan, What Stands Between Us and the Sun: Photograph 3, 2010; digital c-print; 40 x 60 inches; courtesy the artists; © 2010 Megan and Murray McMillan

Megan and Murray McMillan, What Stands Between Us and the Sun: Installation, 2010; mylar, video projection, dimensions variable; courtesy the artists; © 2010 Megan and Murray McMillan

Wife and husband collaborators Megan and Murray McMillan, formerly of Dallas and currently based in Providence, have found a delicate balance between extravagance and efficiency in their work, staging elaborate endeavors that fuse sculptural installation and video production in provocative and graceful ways. Their practice involves building ornate sets and props, then choreographing actors and visible stage crews to produce moving image artworks; these last no longer than a typical pop song but nevertheless elucidate intricate human dramas as only the very best pop songs can. The installations in which they exhibit these works typically incorporate props and scenic elements from the video production, sometimes repurposed or recontextualized.

Their latest work, What Stands Between Us and the Sun, is a video installation at AXIOM Center for New and Experimental Media in Boston. At its center is a universal tragedy retold as a miniature video narrative. The video, a four minute loop, presents a single, wide tracking shot in which a woman and a man in a rowboat glide over a placid lake and come aground on a remote shore, backlit by shafts of evening sunlight. Silently, the two protagonists sit down next to each other to watch the sun set, perhaps—we imagine—over some nearby mountaintops. However, suddenly, the lake’s mirrored surface rises up before the couple and engulfs them, blocking out the sun and filling their view with only their reflection.

Like much of the McMillans’ work, the video is presented as an intentional work of theater—its edges showing and delineating, if not also blurring, the space between fact and fantasy. The lake is, in truth, a stage set, visible in the video in cross section. This platform is the size of a large pond, sheathed in reflective Mylar and embedded with a special stagehand-operated pulley-conveyer mechanism that sustains the illusion of a drifting rowboat. An undisguised stage crew moves conspicuously and deliberately in and out of the frame, performing a seamless sequence of supportive gestures, such as pulling the boat across the lake. The rays of sunlight do not peak over mountains but are streaming through the giant windows of the warehouse studio video set. The effect of the rising shroud of the lake surface is accomplished with ropes, pulleys and hinged stage sections, pulled into place by the crew, essentially enclosing the couple in a reflective box.

The “Us” in What Stands Between Us and the Sun is universal, a point driven home by the physical space of the installation in which viewers watch the video. Enclosed in this small, Mylar-lined room, not unlike the space depicted in the video, viewers see their own reflections and find themselves in the protagonists’ predicament. The “What” in the title is apparent to anyone who witnesses the work: self-consciousness. The video and installation offer viewers the chance to see the physical and metaphorical mechanisms at play beneath the narrative—and therein the possibility to transcend the narcissistic limitations of the human ego...or at least to wonder about that potential.

The video’s deliberate brevity is an elegant gesture, particularly when considered in relation to the large scale and high quality of the production. The narrative gives just enough time to deliver a clear metaphor of a certain, shared, lamentable psychological trouble, but neither the wisdom nor suggestions to overcome it. So, even while the video is grand and seductive enough to stand on its own, it is through the installation that the work resonates with the viewer, and the McMillans achieve a powerful and discrete work of poetry.

Potter-Belmar Labs is Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens, collaborating artists since 1999, with internationally exhibited work including live cinema performance, single-channel video and installation art. They recently performed a new, commissioned live cinema composition, I Am Curious (Remix), as part of the 2010 Aurora Picture Show Media Archaeology Festival in Houston.

This exhibition will be on view through November 27, 2010.

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