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The Power Of Uconn's Women On Display
December 2, 2004
By L.P. STREITFELD, SPECIAL TO THE COURANT

Multimedia artist Janet Biggs has used video to investigate power and control since her autobiographical 1997 "Girls and Horses." When Barry Rosenberg, director of the Contemporary Art Galleries at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, invited her to do an installation, the women's championship basketball team seemed an ideal subject for an artist who has long mined sports for material.

Janet Biggs' "One-on-One" opened this week at the Contemporary Art Gallery. The two-channel video invites the viewer into the center of the empty stadium and a larger-than-life drill between Maria Conlon and Morgan Valley, members of UConn's 2004 World Champion women's basketball team.

Q: You use two large-scale videos to separate the empty spectator stands from the action.

A: Yes, actually the structure of the piece was taken from trying to imagine what it would be like to be those basketball players in the center of the court and allowing the viewer both to act as the audience and act as the participant.

Q: What led up to this exhibition?

A: I did a lot of work about the construction of female identity and specifically women's experiences with power, and this has a lot to do with my interest in athletes.

Q: What directions did you give the players?

A: I inscribed a square and asked them not to step out of that and described for them a drill where one has possession and the other tries to take possession of the ball. I asked them to be as aggressive in that drill as they possibly could. The more we worked, the more they rose to the occasion. They were just incredible to work with.

Q: What interested you the most about the players?

A: There was an ambiguous space they occupied between extreme aggression and beautiful dance, something that only happens with athletes that are so accomplished in their field. They don't have to think. They just do. They mirror each other move-for-move.

Q: What have you discovered about power and femininity in your work?

A: We are forced into roles. And when one doesn't fit into those roles, there are choices that either we make or society makes. I believe everything is constructed from personal experience and outside influences. The more one is aware of those, the more information you have in making a choice.

Q: Yet the Huskies are viewed as cultural heroines due to their choices on the basketball court.

A: Sports is a socially acceptable way of changing gender roles.

Q: What interests you about the Huskies?

A: I am interested in working with athletes at the top of their sport. The dedication needed to reach that level borders on obsession or compulsion.

Q: Did you find that obsession and compulsion in the act of playing?

A: I did. There is such a tremendous amount of effort to make that play look effortless. The nature of that is isolating.

Q: You portray this isolation visually with the empty arena. What is next for you?

A: I am headed to Florida to work with natural horsemanship. Most of the women are in their 40s or 50s and very accomplished but have to give up a certain level of control to gain more. They ride without bridles or saddles.

Q: So, you are now attracted to women who literally are giving up the reigns of power. Did you feel empowered working with the Huskies?

A: I did. I can project my own fantasies onto them.



 

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