By Zack Reeves
Image: Tabitha Nikolai, Shrine Maidens, 2018, virtual environment made in the Unity game engine
In its exhibition statement, Recess/ed promises to help the viewer “see and activate the body in art… through the entry-point of materiality.” Translated, this might say: This art will help you feel yourself. Across four installations, one delivers, while another falls short.
Ricky Allman’s and Barry Anderson’s Seven Simultaneous Sunsets, the first and largest piece, covers four walls and contains video, painting, and installation, yet fails to ground the viewer. This collage of crystal skulls, architecture, and video birds, according to the artists’ statement, captures “the exhilarating speed of the journey towards a spectacular, unfolding future,” but this slapdash piece is still looking for somewhere to land.
Tabitha Nikolai’s virtual environments, Shrine Maidens and Ineffable Glossolalia, deliver. Step up to the Macintosh computer and play it like a video game, which it in a way is. Glossolalia sends the player through a terrifying Borgesian hellscape: anti-trans 4chan posts cover walls adjacent to posh Victorian studies, with creepy whispering and music. It all contributes to a menacing sense of bodiedness: when one room contained nothing but a tall, breathing minotaur, I gasped. Nikolai’s statement on the complexity of trans life hits a distinct, brutal chord.
One goal of art is to bring the viewer out of their head to where the art exists. Gallery patrons, humans all, might be thinking about work, sex, or money, heads far from what they witness. But those who push past Nikolai’s difficulty will find themselves in a strange spot: inside themselves, a little different.
Zack Reeves is a 2018-2019 Oklahoma Art Writing & Curatorial Fellow.