Magazine article Artforum International

Ydessa Hendeles: Institute of Contemporary Arts

Magazine article Artforum International

Ydessa Hendeles: Institute of Contemporary Arts

Article excerpt

Ydessa Hendeles

INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS

As I entered Ydessa Hendeles's installation From her wooden sleep ..., 2015,1 instantly became extremely anxious. I was equally entranced. The darkened theater space of the ICA was filled with 150 wooden artist's mannequins--from miniature, doll-size figures to adult-human scale, dating from 1520 to 1930--collected by Hendeles over the past twenty years. Most were seated on rows of low oak pews designed for children, their backs turned as they looked toward a lone beech and steel figure, with an easel holding a portrait of a man to its right. On either side of this figure were four high-backed American Arts and Crafts oak settles (designed by Gustav Stickley) with more mannequins sitting on them--like the choir surrounding an altarpiece--while various vitrines contained smaller mannequins. This meticulously staged scene conjured the forms and ritualistic drama of public communal spaces: places of worship, schools, theaters. Along the walls hung fairground mirrors that distorted the reflections of both the mannequins and their viewers. Three security guards stood there like sentinels. Finding myself alone in the space, I felt as if I, too, were on display: watched by both these animate and inanimate beings, in this eerie chapel-cum-museum.

"Golliwogg's Cakewalk," the sixth movement of Claude Debussy's 1908 Children's Corner suite, played on a loop in the gallery, suggesting that these nonsentient beings might just come alive and dance. In extensive exhibition notes, Hendeles writes of the music's relationship to ragtime: "The Cake-Walk, too, had its origins in African-American slave communities, the name according to some accounts referring to the prize of a cake given to winners of a dancing contest," for which slaves mimicked their masters' own dances in an exaggerated form for their masters' entertainment. …

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