Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Factory work

Real Art Ways
56 Arbor St., Hartford, (860) 232-1006
Heather Beard
May 17—June 17, 2007

Heather Beard, a photographer and video artist whose work is presently showing in Real Art Ways' Real Room, is one of six selected artists from the Hartford-based contemporary art organization's 2006 Open Call. Her images and video, she writes in her artist statement, document "spaces between presence and absence." For this series, she has explored shuttered factory sites including the former Hathaway Shirt factory in Maine and the defunct Bethlehem Steel mill in Pennsylvania. This small show features one video and about a half dozen large color prints.

"When the Bough Breaks" is a three-minute digital video shot within one of the vacant industrial spaces. It is composed as a diptych, juxtaposing a sequence on the left in which the videographer's hair billows in a breeze in the foreground with a sweeping broom on the right. In the video on the right, we are first looking up through the hair at daytime skylights. But the image soon dissolves into the factory in darkness, while the hair continues dancing carefree. On the right we are offered a floor's-eye view of the straw broom, slowly sweeping the dust and debris in the daylit emptiness. The sequence ends with the broom being tossed out onto the floor.

In her artist statement, Beard notes that she was motivated to sweep because she found brooms in the shirt factory where she was photographing. Her act echoes the act performed ritually when the plant was open but its present pointlessness makes it absurd. Beard states that the cleaning ritual "most likely" was performed by a woman. While that would be true in a domestic home environment, I think in the industrial environment that task more likely would have been assigned on the basis of race than gender. Be that is it may, there is a lot of emotional resonance in this short non-narrative film. It is created by choices of light and dark and by the contrast between the floating freedom of the hair and the labored, resigned deliberateness of the sweeping.

The photos have a mournfulness, rife with a sense of abandonment. Beard's own occasional appearance within the frame is as a ghost: seen in shadow, or as a reflection, or captured phantom-like in a long exposure as in "Neither One. Nor Two." Absence is indicated by the posted newspaper obituary of a former worker, empty chairs and stained, uncleaned floors. The compositions are stark, beautiful, dramatically lit and deeply moving.


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