What lurks beneath

The Walker’s latest exhibit delves into the darkest corners of imagination

Sara Nicole Miller

Written by Joseph Conrad in 1899, the novel “Heart of Darkness” epitomizes the frightful and almost frenzied obsession the modern psyche has with darkness, the exotic and the unknown.

The book – a disquieting account of an English boat captain’s trip down the Congo River in colonial Africa – is also a morally ambiguous, cautionary tale. It warns of the inevitable perils of colonialism and of perceiving the world through disjointed categories of barbarism and civilization.

The Walker Art Center has recently taken up similar haunting psychological motifs in its new exhibition – with its appropriately borrowed title “Heart of Darkness.” The exhibition features three large-scale installation environments by artists Thomas Hirschhorn, Kai Althoff, and Ellen Gallagher and Edgar Cleijne.

Yasmil Raymond, assistant curator at the Walker, explained that the installations all deal with darkness in an array of worldly (and otherworldly) manifestations.

“Philippe realized that the three pieces, when you put them together, mimic – in a very strange way – the journey that Kurtz (Conrad’s antagonist) takes through the Congo,” said Raymond.

In Althoff’s installation “Solo for an Afflicted Trumpet,” the visitor enters a space that is, by most accounts, eerily domesticated. Satin-fringed umbrellas, patterned draperies and aging porcelain dolls are haphazardly scattered about. Vergne said these objects all work to “delineate, with a touch of flaming decadence, the limbo of sexual identity and emotional friction.”

HEART OF DARKNESS

WHEN: Oct. 21 to Jan. 14
WHERE: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis (612) 375 7600
TICKETS: Free with gallery admission; $8 general, $5 student with I.D.

A 16 mm film installation titled “Murmur: Watery Ecstatic, Kabuki, Blizzard of White, Super Boo, Monster,” consists of multiple constructions of mythical environments. A series of lights map the gallery space as the exhibition showcases spliced film. In Gallagher’s past work, she has displayed interest in physicality: process, layers, materials and texture. Similar artistic styles resonate in the “Murmur” installation, where filmic techniques such as stop-frame animation and etching and painting on film strips are used.

The last installation, “Cavemanman,” created by Hirschhorn, consists of a large, lumpy, subterranean vortex made of brown plastic tape, clusters of tinfoil mannequins, heaps of empty soda cans and bombs made of selected books like Thomas Hobbes’ biography. The five-room labyrinth is the contemporary dwelling of a recluse caveman, who nurtures his commitment to isolation just as heartily as his political convictions and poster collection of Pam Anderson and Che Guevara.

The installations are bewildering. Opposites of public and private, primitive and civilized, organic and industrial all collide. “Heart of Darkness” alludes to many spaces in society out of which utopia forms and dystopia seethes.