Still Life with Mouse

Martha Burgess's interactive art drags (and clicks) an old genre into the modern era

Objects can conjure up a million different associations; Burgess is interested in how many associations we all share and how many we don't. When is a cigar not a cigar? Clicking on an image in the CD-ROM triggers another image in the same way that a thought triggers another thought -- sometimes the second thought is obvious, sometimes intriguingly tangential. It's like sitting front row in the artist's brain as she has an illustrated conversation with herself. It makes you very aware of the thought process, of how ideas flow from one to another.

The best way to approach the installation is not to try to decode it all. The work is packed with such a huge range of references that attempting to follow all the threads is exhausting, and misses the point entirely. A spirit of play is important: Latch on to what appeals to you and go along for the ride. Burgess is an academic as well as an artist and has lectured on queer deconstruction at Barnard College in New York City. It is to her credit that while theory underlies and occasionally surfaces in the work, she does not force it upon the viewer in a didactic manner. Yes, it informs her ideas, but she has fun with it. It is similar to how Burgess takes technology and makes it work for her. It becomes a tool to realize an idea, not a "gee whiz, look at what this stuff can do" gimmick. Burgess manages to make the staid still life a jumping-off point for a powerful and complex mix of humor and social commentary.

Martha Burgess's Living: The artist attempts to transcend stereotyped gender roles in the poetic Sugar N.
Martha Burgess
Martha Burgess's Living: The artist attempts to transcend stereotyped gender roles in the poetic Sugar N.


For more information, call (713)348-6069
Through Sunday, December 17, at Rice University Art Gallery, 6100 South Main

The gallery has posted the customary adult-content warnings; this would probably not be the show to introduce your eight-year-old to contemporary art. Parental discretion, after all, is always better than childproofing culture.

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