video art installations jarring
By Sarah Henning
The Forum, August 12, 2001
Janet Biggs' art could jolt a dead man out
Her suspenseful pieces on display at the
Plains Art Museum intentionally inject anxiety and disappointment into
viewers, leading most to personal realizations about the social issues
Biggs has chosen for her work.
"I start with overarching
ideas/concepts such as early female sexuality, desire and control, or how
our society uses pharmacology to alter perceptions and actions," says
the New York City artist.
"Rather than try to illustrate these
ideas, I mine my own autobiography to come up with images that allow one
to enter the piece and provoke new thoughts and ideas."
Her video installations (the second video
display ever shown at the museum) may not have plots, but both tell
"Glacier Approach" places the
viewer in the art by showing just the prow of a ship as it slowly
navigates toward a crevice in a Norwegian glacier.
Split-second images of young female
swimmers are dramatically spliced into the film at a rapidly increasing
The juxtaposition of the calm scenery and
hum of the boat disturbed by adolescent swimmers creates a goose-pimply
sense of imminent danger and desire to reach the destination.
"These underwater clips are both
dreamlike and frightening in their portrayal of early female sexuality and
the implied drowning or freezing of these desires," Biggs says.
In her second piece, BuSpar, Biggs uses
three wall-size screens to surround the viewer.
The main screen studies Biggs' autistic
aunt, Anne, as she sits in a rocking chair. Anne continually swivels her
head to stare blankly at the viewer, creating a haunting image. She is
medicated with BuSpar, a drug prescribed to treat compulsive behavior.
Vets also use it to tranquilize horses.
Screens on either side show restrained
horses being guided in small, repetitive movements.
Biggs says the piece's strength lies in the
use of the horse as the antithesis of its usual symbolism -- power and
"And while Anne appears to be trapped
by her diagnosis and activity, the rocking actually allows a
release," she says. "The two images invert societal expectations
while engaging issues of power and control."
Biggs' exhibit runs through Sept. 30.