I have not met Cathy Fairbanks—at least not formally—but she has been watching over me for a week now. In the southeast corner of the Root Division gallery, the visitor can find Cathy Fairbanks if he or she wishes to meet her. Tonight will be an opportunity to meet her in the flesh, but until then, the visitor will confront her surrogate instead. Looming overhead, one is able to view the image of her eye projected into the corner. It is blue. Cathy Fairbanks has blue eyes.
It would be a mistake to not mention the obvious. The eye is watching us, just like a surveillance camera would in its similar location. To most, the surveillance camera has become so prevalent and commonplace in the public realm that it is barely noticed, like wallpaper. And now would be a good time to insert a conversation about “Big Brother” and how contemporary urban citizens are used to being watched. We now live our lives on stage, where the surveillance camera is simply one lens aimed our way. Blogspot, facebook, twitter, myspace_music, YouTube, tumblr, flickr, FaceTime and digital cameras make it easy to see and be seen on an increasingly constant basis. Broadcasting our mundane adventures rather than cherishing our privacy is encouraged, if not expected.
Cathy Fairbanks’ work is more private though; it is more personal. Even if conversations of “Big Brother” hover alongside her work, I want to make sure Ms. Fairbanks is discussed too. This is her eye on the wall, not a generic machine. And there are some complexities at heart that go beyond the notions of surveillance cameras. Her eye is much larger than a surveillance camera; it wants to be noticed—it does not want to be wallpaper.
Cathy Fairbanks’ installation is personal, but it exists in a public space. The projection plays between being active and passive. The eye, in reality, is very active. It scans, refocuses, and blinks incessantly. It gives and receives information simultaneously. The projected eye in the Root Division gallery watches over those who pass by, but it does so very passively. It does not blink and it does not scan the room. The visitor looks into it, but it does not look back into the viewer. As we, the viewers, gaze into the projected eye, the work becomes active again. There is water rippling behind the image of the eye and if we stay tuned in a bit longer, we will notice the image of Cathy Fairbanks swimming across the pupil.
I can define the installation’s key components: the projector, the image of an over-sized eye, the video of a swimmer swimming, the wall(s) catching the projected light. But I cannot define where the work begins and ends. If it were a flat two-dimensional print hung on the wall, foreground, middle ground and background would be compressed into the same plane. The projector throws light across a three-dimensional space though; the image of the eye literally begins at the projector and ends at the wall. Once the image hits the wall(s), the eye looks back and starts the process all over again. The video of the swimmer illuminates the same distance from projector to wall(s), so the eye and swimmer are constantly fighting to be foreground and/or background incessantly, depending on the gallery viewer’s orientation. Is the swimmer being reflected in Ms. Fairbanks’ glassy eye, is she watching herself in some sort of out-of-body experience? Or is she allowing the viewer to peer behind her eye, revealing the introspective thoughts of her wading through an endless sea? The video, after-all, is looped. She treads water without ever taking a break. Is the eye blue or is it just the water, maybe both?
I will add a simple vinyl number 0 later today to Ms. Fairbanks’ work for two reasons. One, I feel like her installation introduces some ideas prevalent in the neighboring artwork that Seth Lower and I installed for the exhibition. (Those ideas can be discussed elsewhere.) Two, because I love the looping play between the private and the public, between the passive and the active in Ms. Fairbanks’ installation. Aside from it numerical meaning, a 0 is also a loop too, a circle with no obvious beginning and end. I eagerly anticipate meeting Cathy Fairbanks tonight and look forward to witnessing her performance, which is certain to compound the complexity of her already existing installation.
-David Wolf, 8/20/11