The Golden Standard of Illusionary Art: Samara Golden at PS1

Nested in the crux of ‘Zero Tolerance’—an exhibition of artworks engaged with activism and justifiably confrontational — there is a small haven of childhood-like enthrallment in Samara Golden’s ‘The Flat Side of The Knife’ at MoMA PS1. Barely scratching the surface of describing Golden’s installation would be describing a gallery with a floor made of mirrors reflecting exposed brick, silver stairs and tasteful furniture sprinkled with a color palette of sand and emerald sea. The exhibition is situated in PS1’s Duplex Gallery, which spans two open floors and is only viewable from balconies in an atrium-style experience; however, Golden’s tactful manipulation of space makes the exhibition appear to take up double the size of the gallery. The floor lined with mirrors–which is arguably the most important part of this work–sits beneath the gallery filled with silver staircases leading to and coming from nowhere, beds on the ceiling, a projection of the ocean through a window, furniture hanging upside-down, wheelchairs precariously rolling up and down the stairs, guitars stuffed in corners and the almost inaudible buzz of music bouncing through the space.

Images courtesy MoMA PS1

Images courtesy MoMA PS1

Golden has carefully structured certain parts and pieces of the work so that when seen in the reflection of the floor, the room seamlessly continues downward. The staircases have steps on both sides of the wood, there is a couch, table and bed mounted on the ceiling, and half of all of the other objects are upside-down to give the illusion of being right-side-up when seen in the reflection. ‘The Flat Side of the Knife’ demonstrates Golden’s artistry as a kind of phantom architecture, because she has accomplished building an entirely new gallery within the one she was given. The effect of the reflection space is only strengthened by the complete removal of the viewer from the space; we are stuck as viewers, voyeurs even, unable to interact at all with the “real” gallery space, which then removes us even further from the constructed reflection space, and in turn, it somehow becomes more plausible as a “real” space.

Perhaps what is more remarkable than the presentation of a space that does not in fact exist is the brilliant subtlety in Golden’s work that leads to a long pause before one can fully react to the work. There is a whisper of movement in a video loop which is (in real space) projected upside-down in the uppermost right corner of the room which makes it appear in the lowermost corner of the reflection room. The loop of ocean waves softly breaking over a rock is split on two different window-sized screens and is placed strategically perpendicular next to a doorway-sized hole in the upper wall of the gallery. Together, these pieces of the work as a whole create the feeling of the room not only expanding downward into the floor, but outward and away from the gallery; spilling into the open beachfront windows or into a connecting room through an open doorway.

Images courtesy MoMA PS1

Images courtesy MoMA PS1

The other notable stroke of subtle brilliance in the work is Golden’s allusion to a tragedy in the jarring lack of a human presence. One of the beds which exists “right-side-up” in the reflection room is laid out in a beautiful bright blue bedspread; however, the bed is left slightly unmade and a few feet away from the bed is an aged medical IV stand, with a bone-dry IV bag tangled up in thin tubes. Retreating down further into the reflection room is a living room scene which is hung upside-down on the ceiling of the gallery. Two wooden couches and a cello, all painted silver, are positioned around a rug and small side table; a single glass of red wine is spilled on its side. The combination of the virtual tide breaking just outside the illusionary room containing a slightly unmade sick-bed and a spilled glass of wine makes for a conclusive wave of dread and inexplicable fear; thus Golden has not just created an art piece in ‘The Flat Side of the Knife’, she has created a narrative unlike any I have ever experienced.

Exhibition on view until September, 2015. 

 

By Emily Eason, ’17

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