It may have been the quietest First Friday opening ever: hushed gallery-goers huddled in a darkened room, watching Kelly Rauer's high-definition video installation, Shaping Sequence. The piece had no soundtrack, and there was hardly a cough or whisper to be heard in the audience—which is exactly the way Rauer must have wanted it. Her work has always been quietly subversive, and it almost always concerns the human body. Recall her deflating balloons at Beppu Wiarda in 2008, a deceptively simple piece that flirted with gender and sexuality. In a 2009 video installation at Milepost Five, she methodically swallowed a line of sewing thread, which spelled out the word "Aggression."
Now Rauer unveils Shaping Sequence, a video installation in which she bares both her body and conceptual agenda. For this 20-minute piece, she videotaped isolated quadrants of herself in unforgiving close-up, while she moved in excruciatingly slow, yogalike poses. The images, which are in color, are projected onto the gallery wall in shifting configurations of between two and six frames: swatches of skin and shadow, wrinkles and hair, sweat, veins, moles, freckles, tube-sock indentations, and goose pimples. She avoided showing any overtly sexual flesh, explaining that she was hyper-aware of what the frame contained, did not contain, and came oh-so-very-close to containing but not quite. This was her way of testing her own physical and psychological comfort while engaging the purity or prurience of the viewer's expectations.
Some viewers thought the piece dragged on too long, while others embraced its minimalism. My own reactions butted up against one another. I thought the piece would have looked better in black-and-white, but then realized that the nuances of the body's pigmentation would have been lost. I thought the video would have looked more polished if it had been processed into slo-mo, yet the jerky irregularity of Rauer's movements are exactly what telegraphed the work's performative, endurance-test rigor. I wished the piece had reached in more radical directions in positing the body as a transgressive vehicle, but Rauer is not Yoko Ono or Marina Abramovic, nor should she strive to be. Ultimately, her Shaping Sequence is about accepting, not smoothing over, the tragicomic topographies that hold us in.
at New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny St., 231-8294. Closes Sept. 19.