Alix Pearlstein, "The Drawing Lesson"

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Courtesy of On Stellar RaysAlix Pearlstein, The Drawing Lesson
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Courtesy of On Stellar RaysAlix Pearlstein, The Drawing Lesson
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Courtesy of On Stellar RaysAlix Pearlstein, Moves in the Field
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Courtesy of On Stellar RaysAlix Pearlstein, Moves in the Field
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Courtesy of On Stellar RaysAlix Pearlstein, Moves in the Field

Two videos on adjacent walls dominate Alix Pearlstein’s current exhibit. In both Moves in the Field and The Drawing Lesson, performers dressed in black and white silently interact against white backdrops. The term moves in the field refers to figure skating choreography, and in the eponymous piece, the actors mill around without touching each other in a way that’s random yet mesmerizing. The work’s oppositional psychology is reflected not only in the actors themselves—who are black and white, old and young, male and female—but also in the manner in which they abruptly shift between attraction and avoidance. At one point, a woman gazes into the face of another as the latter looks away. The wish to connect is palpable, and the failure to do so seems inevitableÑnot sad, really, just a fact of life.

The Drawing Lesson takes its title from a 1734 painting by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, and its austere setup—actors sitting stiffly in white chairs in a white room—belies a significantly warmer tone. The camera circles the players steadily, repetitively, like an animal stalking its prey. As they go from a group of four to a group of three, then two and, finally, just one, the actors watch each other intently until the camera catches their eyes and they begin to follow it as it cycles around. As faces come fully into view, traces of pleading or longing become subtly apparent. The desire to be seen, to be known, as well as to see and to know, permeates the otherwise empty room, filling it with pathos and beauty.—Jennifer Coates

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