Lee Deigaard has two shows on view at the Ogden through April 6th. One is a series of photographs from her show “Unbidden” which debuted at The Front in 2012. The other work is a video installation titled “Pulse” which features a bonus quasi-sculptural bench/ grassy patch on which to view the work in the Tunnel Gallery.
Far from an afterthought to the film, the unconventional little refuge provides a cozy retreat from the Ogden’s grand, stony hallways. In keeping with Deigaard’s perplexing knack for bringing the outdoors inside, the platform is set on piers and covered with bright and cheerful astroturf.
The bench is at least two and a half by seven feet, providing not only a charming aside to the lovely, austere architecture of Goldring Hall, but also inviting a crowd to gather in front of Deigaard’s dynamic video. While sprawling on the grass may seem an experience singular to weekend or outdoor leisure for the typical museum-goer, Deigaard has provided a most convenient picnic spot at a comfortable chair height of around twenty-seven inches.
Sitting on the makeshift sod thrusts the viewer back to childhood in an uncanny way. Perhaps it is the memory of story time on the grass that achieves this effect. Whatever the cause, the childlike sense of wonder can be magically present for the viewer watching “Pulse,” heightening the sights and sounds on the screen. The leaves will rustle that much more crisply from the pseudo-turf, the water will coarse and tinkle and swirl that much more vividly, and suddenly Blue’s prankish stunts will reveal themselves with astonishing clarity.
Blue is Lee Deigaard’s horse, a Black and Blue Quarter, to whom she attributes a great sense of humor. As she sets up two Breyer toy horses on the ground on either side of Blue’s massive, munching jaws, he breaks the fourth wall to wryly address the audience. Boom, one down. He addresses us once more, then knocks over the other one, assuring one and all that this was no accident, and that this isn’t the first time he’s played this game with Deigaard. One gets the impression that Blue never tires of entertaining the artist in this way.
“Pulse” features fleeting scenes from the outdoors, strung together by shifting themes. The movie itself pulses from encounter to encounter, and buzzes with life as it unfolds. The entire movie is now up to about fifty minutes, and Deigaard assures us “I keep adding to it,” with an energized twinkle in her eyes. Observing the wide outdoors is Deigaard’s game, and she brings us back enchanting tales from her meditations on nature. There is a love story within both Pulse and Unbidden, and it is between not just Lee and her horse but Lee and every blade of grass she’s ever encountered.
Up on the third floor, Deigaard’s show “Unbidden” displays a certain sense of fun but one that is tempered with an awareness of the wild nature of her subject matter. Deigaard has employed the use of a hunter’s infrared camera to patiently track her animal cohorts in the woods of her family home in northern Georgia.
The land is sandwiched between two popular hunting grounds, but traversing the farm is strictly forbidden. Amongst the fascinating opossums, hares, does, bucks, and raccoons that Deigaard managed to capture during her excursions is a poacher. In hat and regalia, the butt of a shotgun is barely visible over his far shoulder and he cuts the figure of something of a space man, sporting bright lights on his hat and in his hand. Panthers and coyotes whose images appear in other photos in the show are oddly less menacing than the “Poacher.” Encountering both varieties of company during the course of her project, she assures us that this sense of dread is good sense. She has herself heard that a poacher discovered is more a threat than the animals she has come to know well enough to have named.
The consistently disturbed, confrontational gazes of Deigaard’s animal subjects are what takes center stage in “Unbidden.” Although they are often adorable, like “Salome” the wild hare, or strangely detailed like the melanistic coyote who strikes Deigaard much like a shadow in person, or majestic like the huge buck “Atlas,” their reflective eyes betray a frightened gaze.
This effect we’ve all experienced when attempting to snap a shot of the family dog, or locate a pet cat in the dark is due to the tapidum lucidum, the reflective membrane in the backs of their eyeballs. The human eye can’t detect the infrared extreme of the spectrum of color, but the animals in “Unbidden” look startlingly aware of the camera flash. What could go unnoticed, however, is their ease around Deigaard. They know her, approach her, often ignore her like she is one of the trees that artfully dissect and intersect her black and white photographs. Through the use of this type of photography, Deigaard has loaned us her stealthy, intimate knowledge of these specific woods but maintained a visible record of the startling nature of humanity as it invades and confronts the animal world.