Cubicles. Picket fences. Walled gardens and high-rise apartments.
We like to box ourselves in and wall things off; searching for a sense of security, privacy and individual domain. In their exhibit Relative Perspectives at the Clark County Government Center, local artists Marlene Siu and Javier Sanchez pick up on this human tendency, cleverly exploiting and inverting the functionality of partitions.
The piece by Siu — the artist readily admitting to being “obsessed with containers! I build them, I collect them, I’m not sure why …” — takes the form of a cube-stacked wall reminiscent of the tightly assembled units of an apartment building. Inside, we find inserted in the back of random cubes photographs capturing people in vulnerable moments between hope and despair, as if an apartment complex had its front wall stripped away. In one cube, a little boy in pajamas and red cape takes flight in a jump from the bed. In another, a woman is caught midair in an awkward scream. Some images are more ambiguous, such as an older gentleman lounging by a grill in the backyard with a trio of dachshunds scurrying about his feet while a desert tortoise crawls nearby. Beer in hand, smoking a cigarette, the man’s expression is stoic and pensive, making the curious grouping all the more mysterious.
With this installation, Siu transforms the typically passive experience of viewing photos into a physical, voyeuristic one. She eliminates a nonchalant stroll-by, requiring the viewer to put forth an effort to see the images; getting up close to peer inside — dropping down on her knees for the lower images and backing up several steps to get a glimpse of the top tier.
Similarly, Sanchez also modifies the photo-viewing experience, changing it into an interactive photo-sculpture, harnessing the medium of the wall and subverting its separation function. Tall, white beams installed in rows are lined with Las Vegas residents of all ages and backgrounds, from young Goth types and suited professionals to plaid hipsters and painters brandishing brushes. More than 450 faces appear, representing six months of photography sessions and a diverse cross-section of the local community. Most portraits are presented as smaller 2-inch by 3-inch black-and-white wallet shots, while enlarged square color shots spread out across the center of each fenced segment, spotlighting random individuals for extra contemplation. Sections of mirrors, cleverly installed in each fence, incorporate the viewer into the piece, momentarily counting her face amongst those represented. Walking around the walls, viewers glimpse one another in between the posts, fleetingly linked by meditation upon perceived separation.
By manifesting the cultural divides that separate us, and placing viewers within that divide, Sanchez forces us to view ourselves within the richly diverse community in which we live. Participation with intangible borders is a daily activity as we go about our lives, but rather than a separator, we are part of that cultural structure. Sanchez reminds us, “In the end, we all live and interact in the same space.”
With these interactive installations, each artist chips away at the walls we place around ourselves, pushing us to let our guard down, interact with our neighbors and really see them for who they are — and then take a fearless look at ourselves.
RELATIVE PERSPECTIVES Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., through Nov. 30; Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway, 455-7030.