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Inside the bellies of the beasts at ICA at MECA

Species Going Distinct
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  March 27, 2013

 art_bump_main

You know that scene in Jurassic Park, toward the end, where Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum and those peach-faced kids anxiously hunker down in what they think is a safe, sealed, dinosaur-proof laboratory, breathlessly plotting their escape, when somehow!, the raptors break inside, inducing much terror and symbolically laying waste to scads of expensive scientific equipment? That's our point of entry for this season's ICA exhibit: the formulaic tensions of a Hollywood thriller. Begin here, with our heroes in flight from monsters, and a few broad conceptual strokes later you'll be happily wandering inside the monster's belly.

Repeating in five-minute loops on a large digital flatscreen visible from the sidewalk, the drama of the Jurassic Park clip is about as universally interpretable as it gets. (Pretty much the exact same scene exists in Alien, or virtually any other big-budget horror/thriller.) New Yorker Ander Mikalson has muted it, de-saturated the color, and stamped a large ticking clock in the center of the screen. It's no longer a calculable chase sequence, but a sort of orchestra conductor for an absurd symphony, the instruments of which are mounted, like an armory of antiquated curios, on the walls of the front gallery.

Propped on blocky music stands cobbled from plywood and mounted all along the opposite wall are large paperboards bearing a cartoony sheet music, while party toys, arcane gadgets, and metallic kitchenware hang elsewhere in neat taxonomic rows. The entire assembly once belonged to a most unusual orchestra, which reinterpreted the scene's theatrics by way of a score composed by Mikalson and played by an ensemble of volunteers taking their cues from the clock on the screen.

No doubt a ton of fun; but the work also raises a fine ethical question: When we're hard-wired to respond to something in a certain way, what can we do to imagine a different response? It might be an even stronger question if visitors could see one possible answer (no evidence of the original performance exists in the gallery or online), but any aesthetic decision to keep a spectacle ephemeral is generally defensible.

Harbored inside walls of burlap cloth draped from the ceiling of the ICA's darkened back room comes the terrific pull of "Bump," the impressive installation of suspended whale bones found and arranged into a sort of mausoleum by Maine brothers Frank and Dan DenDanto. From taut steel cables, the bones hover at different heights like some Paleolithic mobile, and the effect is mesmerizing. Were they arranged into a simple skeleton of the animal, it would be diminished, instructional. Disorganized, it's a testament to some otherworldly order. We're given the uneasy sensation of walking through the beast, and its sheer immensity is enough to silence the inner critics of most museum visitors. "Bump" is an inexplicable title for a work of such gravity until one considers its only conceivable context: These whales probably died from colliding with ships. Let this sink in from inside this beautiful tomb, where it'll most incisively transmit the show's overarching theme: the highly fraught intersections between human life and the alien rhythms of the rest of the natural world; and, to some extent, how inclined we are to fictionalize the information we find there.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , ICA at MECA
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