Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Condit encapsulates the wonderful/terrible quality of nature and our smallness within it in <i>Within a Stone's Throw</i>.
"One, two, three, everywhere I go is me," intones Cecelia Condit at one point during her seven-minute video piece, Within a Stone's Throw. That circular, rhyming thought mirrors the circular structure of the piece itself. Poetic, haunting and starkly beautiful, the three-channel video is the centerpiece of a current Madison Museum of Contemporary Art show by the same name, on view through Sept. 23.
The show mixes Condit's video with her heavily manipulated still photos, revealing a sensibility that is capital-"r" Romantic, with a dash of fantasy. The Milwaukee-based artist, who exhibits internationally, teaches at UW-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts, where she directs the graduate program in film.
The video begins with Condit walking in a circle around a tree amid a mossy castle ruin, her hand hooked around its trunk as a child might do. She then sets off on an exploration of Ireland's rugged Burren coastline, where tree-clearing and overgrazing by farmers long ago exposed huge swaths of bare limestone.
It's a harsh, unforgiving landscape, and Condit, a slight, young/old figure in red and black, travels among rocks, tall grasses, an old graveyard, and near the crashing sea. She encapsulates the wonderful/terrible quality of nature and our smallness within it.
Her considerable skill at composing an image -- and playing with how images on multiple screens relate to each another as time unfolds -- is evident. While many video pieces leave me cold, this is one I can watch repeatedly.
For me, Condit's still photos are less compelling and too much like fantasy art, but they shed more light on her current concerns as an artist. They're composed of digitally manipulated shots of Lake Michigan that are combined to create a kind of hyper-reality, playing with scale. Rock Water gives us a view of the whole planet as covered by dun-colored water and river rocks. It puts the viewer in a strange, all-seeing viewpoint that's hard to pin down, echoing the mystery of her video installation.
A second video piece, World, projects out onto State Street, drawing the curiosity of passers-by.
The titular work in this show, however, is reason enough to explore Cecelia Condit's work. She's got a fluid, intuitive sense for making highly memorable images, undergirded by a clever structure that reveals itself more and more with repeated viewings.