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Lynn Tondrick
by Aaron Namewirth

Lynn Tondrick, "Mosquito Room," (detail), 1996

The original intention of the artist and curator was to create a space that was antagonistic toward the viewer. To create a place where the spectator would have to make a sacrifice to truly experience the work. A place where the work would take blood. Was the piece an utter failure because the mosquitoes were not aggressive? They did not bite. Although Mike Ballou complained of a bite and showed a definite red spot that he had obviously been scratching--the result of paranoia, he later confessed.

Unlike the normal 24-hour format of other shows at art Moving, Tondrick's "Mosquito Room" lasted one week. The site was altered in two ways: the vestibule was built by art Moving (with the help of Luke Dowd) to the specifications of Lynn Tondrick, and the 800 mosquitoes were ordered from Carolina Biological Supply Company in larval and pupal states to be raised to maturity. Unfortunately, the first batch arrived dead. Costing approximately 50 cents a piece, absurdity dug deep into the pocket. After reordering a new batch, a frantic week of nurturing the squiggly larvae ensued. The daily ritual of sucking them one at a time into an eye dropper--after a chase around an aluminum turkey pan to separate them from their detritus--then releasing them into fresh spring water called attention to the delicate balance of the ecosystem. The larvae metamorphosed into pupae (like little black water beetles), that soon began to dart with even greater speed and agility. And finally, the mosquitoes emerged like tiny rocket launchers floating on slender tripods.

Imagine a Room Filled With Mosquitoes

Approaching the gallery, eight people are clustered in a small group outside on the sidewalk. Several look through one of the two large storefront windows. Others talk to their friends. The mosquitoes are on the ceiling; the people, on the floor. The space is not very large, but not very crowded either. Opening the outside door, one steps into a small vestibule: enough room for just one person, a space without mosquitoes. In this space, between the outside world and the inside of the gallery, exists a place for contemplation, perhaps indecision, but certainly isolation. Looking through the screen the people inside seemed safe enough, very rarely stopping their conversation to swat the air or the back of their neck.

Like Damien Hirst's butterflies and Joseph Beuy's coyote, Lynn Tondrick's interest in the object is secondary. It is not what they look like but what they do and what they are that is important. It is not a particular animal--any will do. We are not comparing this color to that color. Her work focuses on the life of the parasite and its relationship to the host in a performative dance. The screen door, freshly painted and newly installed, calls attention to itself, slamming against the jam. The mosquito is merely a prop, pointing at the viewer, who becomes the viewed. The gallery becomes a stage for interaction.

Although the artist's interest was to create a hostile environment, the space became hauntingly inviting to those perverse enough to take the offer. Looking at them dispersed in the light and clustered in the darkness, I realized that I was not getting what I expected, however, in a very positive way. My expectations were completely turned around, but they always are with shows at art Moving. Just as any installation that reminds us of the space between objects, the fixed mosquitoes became points in a three-dimensional drawing without edges, which changed occasionally as they lifted off, repositioning themselves on the wall and ceiling. More important, however, was the people's relationship to each other--their presence and size dwarfing and overshadowing the insects. Because of this show's resistance to formal dialectics, other issues emerged--i.e., transmittable diseases, the value of art, the value of life, death, sex, drugs, AIDS etc.

Yes, expectations were thwarted. Humanity had sterilized nature into a passive non-event. Ultimately, in terms of real time and space, the distance between psychological objects--be they animate or inanimate, alive or dead, intelligent or instinctual--and their inherent value to culture must be questioned. Thank you Lynn Tondrick.

p.s.--Rumor has it Sean Bayliss was bitten on the right side of the neck by his girlfriend Patty Cate.

Aron Namenwirth

Brooklyn, New York

1996

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