Artist Chequamegon Bollinger’s exhibition CLEAN: Connectivity Issues at ASU School of Art’s Step Gallery confronts the limitations and implications of our connection with each other and ourselves through powerful video art, performance, and sculptural installation.
The three videos, though they vary in length—from three to six minutes long—and in their cinematography, embody the issue of connectivity, sexuality, and gender identity as they astutely confront the viewer’s comfort level. The Clean video, which is the longest and the most cinematically shot, is, in my opinion, the strongest and most captivating of them all. It begins with a shot of a female participant, who is played by the artist herself, getting dressed in a spectacularly bright yellow outfit. She appears to be alone in a dark, studio-like setting. After picking up a couple of speed balls (the kind that boxers use during their training), the video gathers pace. With a speed ball in each hand, she bangs them fervently against the ground as the camera switches back and forth from a zoom in on her rage filled face to a bird’s eye view of her body slouched on the floor. Bollinger’s performance is a compelling attack on our patriarchal society and its stereotype of the subservient and delicate woman. Speed balls are not longer tools to build man’s agility; they become symbols of female strength and protest.
In the second video, titled Interaction, the lone figure in the Clean video has vanished. Instead, the camera shows us eight people forming a circle with each carrying a piece of black rope in their mouths. The transition between this and the previous video is rather awkward. Along with a vastly different cinematography between the two, Interaction is very different in content and simply doesn’t have the same powerful message and aesthetic force as Clean. The viewer has a glimpse at the ritual of untangling and making sense of our connections with others, in contrast to doing this in the digital, non-corporeal realm. The viewer may even feel a tinge of repulsion at the thought of biting on a rope and moving inhumanely around others without the ability of speech. Despite its spectacle, Interaction doesn’t draw the viewer’s attention to the high level of intensity of Clean.
Interaction II, on the other hand, might be too intense for the viewer to stomach. Set against a blue background, a male and a female figure, both naked but shown from the shoulders up, are positioned in profile facing each other. The two figures share a metal pole attached to their mouths, suggestive of the act of fellatio. As the two lock eyes, their breathing grows from calm to heavy, to the point where by the three-minute mark the sound of their heavy breathing reverberates throughout the gallery. The performance confronts our understanding of private versus private intimacy and sexuality in a society that permits violent imagery and yet censors the intimacy of the human body.
In addition to the video projection, the installation in the gallery space features sculptures pertaining to each video, such as a group of speed balls hanging from the ceiling, a rope contraption in front of the video display, and a metal sculpture on each side wall. However, unlike in the videos, the objects in the gallery are devoid of any human touch. They appear as futile remnants of past human activity, like the prehistoric Stonehenge whose function is no longer known or necessary. As we watch the videos and glance sideways at the loose rope on the ground and the cold steel’s dismal shadows, we begin to posit the fate of the participants in the videos and ultimately our own as well. To where have they disappeared? To the realm of virtual reality? Is connection with our own identity and with others possible without these intervening objects, without physical reality? Chequamegon Bollinger’s exhibition poses such questions with complex, unforgettable imagery and no easy answers, except to the question of how unnerving it is to stand next to someone while watching Intervention II.