In Review: Lynne Marsh, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal

By: David Jagr

Canadian Art, Summer 2009

Canadian Art review as PDF (6.7 MB)

The interactions of both the camera and the viewer with architectural space are at the heart of Lynne Marsh’s video work. In her recent show at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Marsh used a broad range of cinematic techniques in three works that explore architectural spaces. Each of the pieces—Ballroom, Camera Opera and Stadium—features a lone figure (in one case the artist herself) as the protagonist and engages with discourses of societal power such as the media, entertainment culture, the military and the state.

Ballroom creates what appears to be a live spectacle. A woman (Marsh herself) is suspended upside down from the ceiling of the Rivoli, a historic London ballroom. The atmosphere is lush, and the figure, wearing a sequined top, emits scintillating beams of light. She could be a circus aerialist or a human disco ball.

At once performative, cinematic and visually stunning, Ballroom is actually a carefully constructed illusion that uses digital technology to generate what viewers might easily mistake for live footage. Marsh’s figure was originally suspended before a green screen and then inserted digitally into the space of the ballroom. But however altered and fabricated the piece might be, Marsh remains the central focus of this lush and immersive fantasy.

Camera Opera is an installation simulating a miniature film or television set with two flat-screen monitors. On the screens, an anchorwoman stands on the set of a German current-affairs program, possibly waiting for an off-camera cue. As she waits, a Strauss waltz begins to play and multiple studio cameras, manned silently by their operators, start to glide slowly around her. Their hushed and deferential ballet suggests something faintly ridiculous, as though their essential function were being denied. Without a script for the show, the studio remains curiously inert, a frozen and self-contained system.

For Stadium, Marsh filmed the recently restored Olympic Stadium in Berlin. One of the central monuments of German fascist architecture, it occupies a troubled place in German collective memory; it was the setting for the 1936 Olympics, which were filmed by Leni Riefenstahl in Olympia. The piece begins with a simulation: the viewer glides effortlessly over a computer-animated model of the new transparent glass-and-steel roof, then plunges into the stadium itself, where the camera proceeds to pan along rows of stark grey plastic seats with Hitchcockian detachment. The surgical camerawork and low-angle panning give the empty chairs the chilling feel of a massed, faceless crowd or army. The grey chairs effectively stand in as totalitarian subjects. Marsh then introduces into this monochromatic space a lone young woman dressed entirely in white. Her garb and her movements echo the athletic postures and calisthenics associated with the stadium’s troubled history.

The masterful technique, sophisticated staging and conceptual rigour exhibited by Marsh in this exhibition have established her as a powerful voice in contemporary video.