“Poetic, haunting and starkly beautiful” is how Madison’s Isthmus describes “Within a Stone’s Throw,” an exhibition by Cecelia Condit, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor in the Department of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres at the Peck School of the Arts.
The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art presents the exhibition in the museum’s State Street Gallery and lobby through Sept. 23. Composed of the artist’s recent videos and large-scale photographs, the exhibition investigates perceptions of reality, scale and nature.
Central to the installation is a three-channel video projection, titled “Within a Stone’s Throw,” that explores the rich landscape of Ireland’s Burren coastline. In 2010, Condit received a grant from the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program that allowed her to spend five weeks at the Burren College of Art in northwest County Clare, Ireland.
Once dominated by dense oak forests, the Burren region – from the Gaelic boíreann, meaning rocky place – shows the effects of continuous settlement dating back to the Neolithic period. Ancient farmers cleared trees to make way for cattle and sheep farming, and livestock grazing eroded the thin layer of topsoil, effectively preventing the growth of future forests.
“When I chose the stark, rocky wilderness of the Burren in Western Ireland, I was interested in considering the relationship between landscape and the human presence,” says Condit. “With the death of my old mother, I wanted to explore a world other than my own. I wanted to tell a story using a different surveillance tool, measuring time and space, as it pertains to our planet.”
The artist appears throughout the video, interacting with the natural surroundings – drifting through moss-covered ruins, walking across rocks, climbing berms, throwing stones. Younger versions of Condit appear and disappear, and pebbles transform into boulders.
New interest in still imagery
Although Condit is best known as a video artist, this exhibition includes her new interest in still imagery. A series of seven photographs complements “Within a Stone’s Throw.” Each image is a complex, digitally constructed composite of Lake Michigan and its environs.
“Like the Burren, which is a landscape that has been deforested and destroyed, Lake Michigan has its own challenges,” says Condit. “When I think of rocks, I naturally think of old; when I think of water it seems so everyday – but the lake reminded me of different forces in play.”
Condit plans to continue her work with still images. “I am not sure what form they will take and if humans will be more present in them, but landscape is central to my thinking, especially as our world becomes more unpredictable and unnerving.”
The exhibition engages visitors both inside and outside the museum. A 5–by-14-foot photograph hangs prominently in the museum lobby and a second video, titled “World,” is projected from the gallery to be visible and audible to passersby on State Street.
Condit’s work has been shown internationally in museums, galleries, alternative spaces and festivals, and is represented in many public and private collections, including The Museum of Modern Art (New York); the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France); and the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh). She has received awards and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Film Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary L. Nohl Foundation and the Wisconsin Arts Board.
The museum is located at 227 State St. in Madison and is open noon-5 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday, noon-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday). There is no admission charge. For more information, visit www.mmoca.org.
Generous support for “Cecelia Condit: Within a Stone’s Throw” has been provided by Mary Ellyn and Joe Sensenbrenner; Daniel and Natalie Erdman; MillerCoors; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin