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Magic Garden
by Eve Wood
Jennifer Steinkamp, "Rapunzel," June 3-July 2, 2005, at Acme, 6150 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, Ca. 90048

Jennifer Steinkamp’s newest body of work, titled "Rapunzel," provides a tremendously seductive visual experience, while also suggesting an intricate and socially resonant narrative. The installation recently closed at Acme gallery in Los Angeles, after debuting earlier this year at Lehmann Maupin in New York.

A series of six computer-animated video projections, "Rapunzel" fills the darkened gallery space with shimmering digital images of wildflowers. They move in a hypnotic, looped dance, with some projected horizontally, others close-up and still others vertically and upside-down. Some move slowly, while others seem nearly hysterical. Most of the images are large and swell to fill the walls of the gallery.

Among the flora is the rapunzel, or rampion, a plant with blue-bell flowers whose leaves and roots are eaten in salads -- or at least they were in the early 19th century, when the Brothers Grimm first collected the tale they called Rapunzel. For it was this flowering herb, growing in a witch’s walled garden, that so enchanted the woman in the story that in return for it she gave her unborn child to the witch, who was the one who named the girl Rapunzel. The child grows to be a beautiful maiden, and as everyone knows, she is confined in a tall tower, long golden tresses at the ready.

Steinkamp’s veil of flowers, so exquisitely rendered in blue, lavender, yellow and pastel green, suggests both the dread and the allure of the sexual knowledge that underlies the tale. The focus here is to create the original "visual opiate state," wherein the viewer drifts in and out of these seductive flowerbeds at will.

The smallest and most discreet work in the show, projected behind the gallery’s front desk, was Dance Hall Girl #9. Though it too showed a bed of rampion in motion, in this case Steinkamp programmed the flowers’ movements differently, making them appear almost as characters in a dance-hall performance, gyrating their slender stalks, tossing their heads back and forth. Dance Hall Girl seems particularly daring.

The works, produced in editions of six, range in price from $14,000 to $45,000, and each includes its own computer. The Lumen projectors cost $5,000-$7,500, and are sold separately. Major Los Angeles collectors are among Steinkamp’s clients (Blake Byrne owns a piece from an earlier series), and are to be congratulated and envied for welcoming this expansive, fierce yet delicate new media work into their homes.

EVE WOOD's new book of poetry, Love's Funeral, is published by Cherry Grove Collections at the University of Cincinnati.