Inside D.C. entertainment

Crowd at (e)merge art fair fails to understand idea of lying on a bed

September 23, 2011 - 08:45 AM
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An installation by Flashpoint artist Lisa Dillin mimics light shining through a tree canopy. Photo: Joshua Yospyn.

Visitors to the (e)merge art fair opening Thursday night at the Capitol Skyline Hotel were good at lots of things: drinking champagne, wearing cool glasses, and giving air kisses. They were less good at interacting with some of the art.

The exhibit, which sprawled across three floors and dozens of rooms at the hotel, included an installation by Flashpoint artist and Baltimore-based sculptor Lisa Dillin. Dillin designed a dropped-tile ceiling, laser-cut to mimic light shining through a tree canopy, and set it up directly above a blanketed bed in Room 322. But the polished art-lookers floating in and out of Room 322 on Thursday don’t take the bait.

A white-haired, white-bearded professorial pair stand and look at the piece. One beard asks if the pattern is random. Karyn Miller of Flashpoint, who’s running the show in Room 322, tells him it’s based on light shining through a tree canopy. The beard to turns to the other.

“I don’t know if you heard her,” he says, “but it’s based on light shining through a tree canopy.”

“Interesting,” the second beard replies. They do not lie down on the bed.

A man in black pants, black shirt, black shoes, and black belt admires the clean cut of the tiles. She tells him it was cut with a laser. He does not lie down on the bed.

One woman asks if the tiles have a pattern. Miller tells her it’s based on a tree canopy. The woman comments that she could almost lie down on that bed!

“Do it!” encourages Miller, who herself has reclined on the white blanket at least three times this hour to demonstrate the ease and permissibility of lying down. “People do it. That’s what it’s there for.” The woman leaves.

A toned middle-aged woman in a tasteful silk top asks if the pattern is random. Miller says it’s meant to be like a tree canopy. The woman perches ever so stiffly on the edge of the bed, going so far as to lean back against one arm and crane her neck upward for a better look.

“Hm,” she says. She does not lie down.

A woman in black silk paisley pants, a couple of young cool people bedecked in layers, and two long-haired young women chattering in an unrecognizable European tongue float in and out of the room. Someone asks how the tiles were cut. Miller says with a laser. No one lies down on the bed.

Lisa Dillin isn’t sure why people aren’t lying on the bed, which is how the piece was meant to be experienced. “I wonder if the headboard being down makes it look less inviting,” she muses, pointing to the hotel headboard that’s been pulled off the bed frame and set on the floor between the bed and the wall. Miller says it’s possible. Dillin considers sliding it under the bed. The women settle on covering the headboard with part of the blanket.

A short, sturdy man in shorts, a cap, and tube socks declares the piece to the best use of that material he’s ever seen. “What in the world is that cut with, I wonder?” he asks.

“A laser,” says Miller.

He asks if it’s random.

“It’s based on light coming through a tree canopy.” The man does not lie down on the bed.

A businessman-type enters and announces that the use of space in the room is great. He looks up at the tiles. “Is that random?” he asks.

Miller explains that it’s based on a photograph of a tree canopy. The businessman-type’s companion wants to know how it was cut out. She tells him it was with a laser. Neither of the men lie down on the bed.

Dillin, who's also an adjunct professor at the Corcoran and American University, suspects something else is at play in her audience’s non-participation. “It’s people in D.C.,” she suggests. “There’s a lot of needing to act professional.” Easier to ask questions about lasers than risk looking silly in front of strangers.

At long last, a young man with the proportions of a string bean approaches the piece. He glances around, then eases himself onto his back across the bed. He lies there with his mouth ajar, huge feet dangling off the side, and looks at the pattern of canopy-like light dappling the tiles. “It’s like flying an airplane or something,” he says to absolutely no one.

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