By Jacob Cutler
Image: Carissa Rodriguez, The Maid, 2018, video still, 2018. 4K video with sound.
Carissa Rodriguez’s newest film, “The Maid,” is currently on view at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. The film portrays a day in the life of Sherrie Levine’s “Newborn” sculptures. It follows these crystal sculptures to private and institutional residencies from New York to Los Angeles. In addition to the titular film, the exhibit showcases some of Rodriguez’s photography and other films. In this exhibition, Rodriguez explores the relationships that artists have with their artworks and how they relate to conditional relationships with third party agents such as institutions, caregivers, and surrogates.
In a way “The Maid” is more than just a film portraying Levine’s sculptures. It is a tribute to her and appropriation art. Levine is known by many as one of the most famous appropriation artists. Early on in her career, she would photograph famous photographs and claim them as her own. “After Walker Evans” is an example of this. Later in her career, she moved towards painting and sculptures. Levine’s “Newborn” sculptures, (crystal and black cast glass, 1990) are her own adaptations of Constantin Brancusi’s “Newborn” sculptures. “The Maid” is an addition to the appropriation art tradition because Rodriguez is using Levine’s art to create a completely new body of work.
Upon entering the gallery, one notices the sheer darkness and size of the room. There’s almost a feeling of emptiness. Then, the viewer’s eye goes straight to the ginormous projection that is hanging in the middle of the gallery; there is a bench in which the viewer can sit on and relax while they watch the film.
“The Maid” is about 12 minutes in length and comprises of beautiful shots of two elegant bean -like crystal sculptures — one opaque and the other black. The beginning of the film shows the two sculptures being shipped to an exhibition after which they are separated with the clear one going to New York and the black one to California.
Rodriguez does a splendid job of transitioning back and forth between the two sculptures. The way in which she has the cameras move allows for effortless changes. One moment, the film takes a look at the sculpture in New York before seamlessly changing to its California location. Even though the shots portray different aspects of the locations such as, the weather and landscapes, the location changes do not distract but only enhance.
The other notable aspect of the film is how Rodriguez makes the viewer try to figure out where the sculptures are located. She does not give away the location right away. For instance, one shot is of the clear sculpture on a glass table in an ornate home. The table is placed in front of a window and it is clear that it is winter time. Outside, one can see that it is snowing and can barely make out some trees off in the distance. Rodriguez continues to show various angles of this room without revealing exactly where the room is located until she cuts to a shot of a drone ascending outside of the home to show that the room is inside of an apartment building in New York.
“Carissa Rodriguez: The Maid” is more than just a beautiful work of art. “The Maid” ponders the relationships between the artist and their work and what happens to it beyond the exhibition. The most interesting aspect of this is that Rodriguez chose to follow someone else’s work and not her own. By following Levine’s sculptures, she is not only paying homage to Levine, but she is also consciously adding to the tradition of appropriation art
(“Carissa Rodriguez: The Maid” continues through July 29 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames Street, Bldg. E15 Atrium level, Cambridge, Massachusetts. For more information, call (617) 253-4680.)