With her many fans, I avidly followed Janet Biggs’ blog and radio reports her visit to the Arctic last year. Janet’s project was advertised as a "kayak ballet" in the ice floes, so I anticipated a group performance similar to her past videos of underwater acrobats. What she produced, now on view at Conner Contemporary in Washington, D.C., is a soaring meditation on mournful solitude called Fade to White.
Fade to White is a similarly structured companion piece to Janet’s video artwork Vanishing Point, which chronicled the solo effort of a female motorcyclist to break the world land-speed record, to the accompaniment of an African-American choir. Its secondary theme was the obsolescence of white male culture, but with Fade to White, Janet now pens a rueful love letter to the white male, full of a universal compassion which bestows diversity even onto those who have dominated.
As in Vanishing Point, Biggs contrasts an epic quest, that of a handsome bearded kayaker rowing up through the globally warmed arctic, where polar bears drift on broken glaciers and open water glistens ominously, with the performance artist John Kelly chanting an obsessive lament in a minor key. Just as you cannot take your eyes of the good-looking, virile kayaker, so you are mesmerized by the bright Kelly green of Kelly’s eyes, the only true green that appears in a video that subtly nods to environmentalism
John Kelly is dressed in white, against a white background, and, in his emaciation, channels a bit of the emcee as portrayed by Joel Grey in the film Cabaret. But death and dissolution are not the end for Biggs; love is. I suspect that the absence of her longtime companion Robert (a white male, incidentally), who commandeered Janet’s reports from the Arctic from their New York home base, provoked an understandable romantic longing, that is the ever-present underpinning of Into the White.
It wouldn’t be the first time that Janet Biggs succumbed to the soft-spoken, the subtle and the incidental, taking us with her through the stuff that dreams are made of.
"Janet Biggs: Nobody Rides for Free," May 15-July 3, 2010, at Conner Contemporary Art, 1358 Florida Ave., NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).