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Back to Reviews 96

Maura Sheehan
Ocean Floor, 1996

Marina Abramovic
Ladder, 1995

Joan Jonas
Spring Well 
of a Story), 1996

Joan Jonas
Spring Well 
of a Story), 1996
view inside well

Joan Jonas
Zena as Fossil Mask

Joan Jonas
Spring Well, 1996 
birdcage with tape
player from


maura sheehan,
joan jonas,
marina abramovic
at cristinerose

by Robert Mahoney 

This three-person ensemble purports to pull 

together disparate work under the theme of 

"Place." That may be, but the three 

participants have installed such discrete 

pieces that the exhibition reads like three 

one-person shows. That is how I review 

them. Maura Sheehan Ocean Floor reprises a 

technique and schema that she has used 

before, a flooring of windshield and other 

auto glass that the viewer is allowed to 

walk over, and with good reason. Panes of 

glass have been imbedded in what looks like 

a rubber matting, flush from wall to wall. 

A tint of chlorine fills some of the glass. 

The flooring is both brittle and cushiony: 

every other step your weight cracks a bit 

more of the glass, every third step your 

weight is cushioned and glides over the 

glass. Sheehan's technique perfectly 

simulates the strange imbalance of walking 

in a locale such as the eponymous ocean 

floor. As you circle, real space is 

released and something close to a virtual 

space is created in your mind. The crack of 

the glass always snaps you back to 

environmental overtones as well. Just as 

seekers after the exotic at coral reefs 

glory in the color of nature and their 

immersion in it, their contact with this 

pleasure also destroys the reef. A brutally 

mature point of view is invested in this 

glass. You cannot indulge your escapist 

fantasies without breaking something.

The same sort of worldly logic approaching 

an inscrutable, almost unacceptable paradox 

is invested in Marina Abramovic's Ladder. 

Abramovic, an underknown Dutch performance 

artist whose exhibition at Sean Kelly this 

past season featured a memorable video of 

the artist scrubbing down a skeleton, likes 

objects that present themselves as 

philosophical riddles. Here she has created 

a simple, single ladder, and has had it 

placed under the sloping skylight vault of 

this back gallery. The ladder as form and a 

conventional semantic schema suggests 

themes of escape and assault, either way 

threshold or climax. But Abramovic has made 

the rungs of the ladder out of gleaming 

razor-sharp kitchen knifes. No one will 

climb this ladder without risking serious 

injury. Phrases like "climbing the ladder 

of success" now seem less optimistic. 

Abramovic's object is invested rather with 

the sourer wisdom of phrases like the 

slippery slope, the greasy pole, or the 

Sisyphian struggle: try hard, always end up 

at square one. The object is either a koan 

on the risk one must take in real life, or 

a challenge, set before the mere art-

gallery-goer, expressing just how effete 

the presumption of life-knowledge based 

solely on understanding through art is.

Joan Jonas's installation features Spring 

Well, with a lovely young woman--Deanna 

Navakuku--doing an underwater swimming 

performance on video within the well, and 

several drawings (of Zena as Fossil Mask of 

a dog, symbolizing something the artist 

must know and Irish stories. There is also 

a table, a radio, some potted cacti and a 

bird cage with the bird replaced by a 

cassette playing birdcalls. Though certain 

performative energy is emitted from the 

ensemble and though there is a certain 

level of displacement in terms of replacing 

the real with the technical and the actual 

with the symbolic, most of the meaning of 

Jonas' installation remains cryptic. In the 

middle room of this three-part card-reading 

of philosophies for mid-life or mid-career, 

Jonas' sit-a-spell casualness seems but a 

moderator between the more urgent quest for 

tolerable or bearable philosophizing on 

life in Sheehan's and Abramovic's work. 

"Place" at Cristinerose Gallery

 395 B'way, NYC NY 10012

 thru July 6. 

Robert Mahoney is an art critic.