Latest MOCA exhibits reimagine the body, devastate viewers

Last Friday, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) debuted its latest exhibitions, which somehow manage to stay connected from gallery to gallery while demolishing viewers as they navigate through it all.

The fourth floor galleries house Stranger, which includes the work of nine artists from around the globe. The immersive experience includes the portraits of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, which beg the question: am I considering them or are they laughing at me? Next, a slinky figure with a drape of blond hair removes an undergarment courtesy of Valérie Blass's Je suis une image, at least until the sculpture reveals its secret. Blass's sculptures are amid the work of Sascha Braunig, which evokes figures pushing out of the canvas, misshapen heads and brains (in the literal sense).

"I want you to sort of feel like a creepy crawly sense of your own skin when you look at those," says Braunig of her works.

Then there is Simon Dybbroe Møller's Untitled (How does it feel), an eight-minute video that outgoing MOCA associate curator and publications manager, Rose Bouthillier, describes thusly: "You'll see a variety of images: this model, fruit, flowers, landscapes," she says. "The narrative through it all is about what the body desires and how the world is designed in relation to our bodies' needs and wants. It's sort of surreal and poetic.

"And then at the end, this main figure is revealed to be cut off below the shoulders so it just becomes this sort of eerie floating bust," Bouthillier continues. "The camera goes underneath and you see the meat and the structure inside.

"You start to question the reality of the images."

That theme carries through to Hyperlinks or it didn't happen, a 20-minute video from Cécile B. Evans featuring Phil, a computer generated graphic that bears an uncanny resemblance to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, thereby evoking the controversy surrounding his death about digitally recreating the actor in order to complete "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay."

Bouthillier describes the work in the context of our digital advancements and "all these ways the body is changing and might actually become unnecessary."

That you can watch Hyperlinks while sprawled upon a thick carpet before the screen twists the experience further by evoking flannel pajamas and bowls of Captain Crunch consumed in front of the TV. Innocence lost, indeed.

On the second floor, the harrowing 12-minute abduct from Xavier Cha utterly captivates the viewer. The work features seven actors in a Spartan setting as they display an array of emotions.

"They're almost overtaken by these spirits and these ghosts of different emotions," says Bouthillier of the commissioned work. "You'll see rage and terror battling on the face with glee."

"It was very exhausting for the actors," notes Cha, who shot the footage in one day at Marlboro Chelsea in New York. "They had to go on this psycho trip that I was really surprised by too," she says, adding that even the rehearsals did not prepare them for the intensity of the shoot, which comes through the finished product with piercing accuracy.

"At the end of it," says Bouthillier of the film, "I just feel totally exhausted and hysterical and confused."

All of the exhibitions are tethered together by Stair A, in which an audio installment constantly plays. That sounds innocuous enough, but the experience is anything but. Stair A is a disorienting bright yellow affair that winds and turns with wiles befitting Lewis Carroll.

It is never a simple route from point A to point B, but something always to be negotiated. Make no mistake: this stairway controls you, particularly as Marina Rosenfeld's Teenage Lontano thrums all around. The haunting sound is actually a sampling of the fragmented commentary, laughter, objections, asides, and vocal styling of groups of teenagers who previously performed more formal versions of the work.

Stair A eventually deposits visitors into the Gund Commons on the ground floor, where they are confronted with nearly six minutes of animated video that, at first blush, might once again recall those Saturday morning cartoon sessions, but the images in Oliver Laric's Untitled quickly turn nightmarish. Human limbs droop down and transform into sprawling roots, man melds with machine and breasts become vicious chewing mouths.

"It's this frenetic sense of morphing," says Bouthillier.

Laric's Untitled is in the public part of the museum along with the gift shop. Anyone is welcome to view it for free during MOCA's regular hours. The rest of the exhibitions are part of a paid admission and worth every penny of $9.50 and then some, although those on a budget are welcome to visit MOCA on the first Saturday of each month when admission is free.

"These are my last shows," said Bouthillier; who is joining the forthcoming Remai Modern in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as curator (exhibitions). "So I'm very happy to introduce all of you to them," she said during a media tour.

And while she was addressing a handful of journalists, the statement no doubt applies to northeast Ohioans near and far, as this swan song is a truly a crowning jewel and not to be missed.

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.