Originally published in Rain Taxi, Spring 2001
An American artist who emerged among such 1960s avant-garde luminaries as Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and her former husband, composer Alvin Lucier, Mary Lucier is an acclaimed video artist who was raised without a television. In this first survey of Lucier’s 30-year career, editor Melinda Barlow meticulously documents, re-creates, and analyzes the multimedia nature of her oeuvre, tracing it from 1972’s collaborative multicultural feminist performance Red, White, Yellow, and Black, to more recent video and sculptural ruminations. Individual chapters are devoted to issues of home and intimacy within dwellings, memory, family and personal history, nature, landscape, and how “scarring” marks both aging human bodies and sites of ecological devastation, such as the toxic post-Exxon Valdez Alaska depicted in her stirring 1993 installation Oblique House (Valdez).
Like other books in [Johns Hopkins University Press’] Art + Performance series, Mary Lucier is thoroughly illustrated and includes interviews and critical essays, as well as reproductions of the sketches, scores, and spoken texts which accompanied the artist’s performances and installations. Barlow’s writing is at times unexpectedly and refreshingly personal for an academic work, narrating her own encounters with the work alongside her analysis. She begins with an early-morning exploration of a dilapidated Charleston slave quarter, where she has come to view one of Lucier’s exhibits: foreboding, uncanny, and oddly intimate, the ruin is reminiscent of one of Lucier’s barn-like installations visited years before, and becomes a platform for further inquiry. The installations Ohio at Giverny, Asylum, and Noah’s Raven also receive this treatment, making it appropriate that many of the scholarly references are to theories of architecture, space, and memory, such as Gaston Bachelard’s writings on imagination and intimate places.
Mary Lucier successfully surveys the work and life of this video pioneer with loving and devout attention for detail. While it unfortunately glances over the sexual and identity politics of her work (instead choosing a mostly aesthetic and art-historical critique of Lucier’s personal and social commentaries), it is an attractive invitation for readers to experience the diverse work of this fascinating contemporary artist.