By BROOK LEBOEUF
News Contributing Reviewer
David Mitchell’s “A Stranger in the Street at the Edge of the Earth,” in Big Orbit Gallery through Saturday, is an immersive, multimedia installation that succeeds in creating a truly visceral experience by enveloping the audience in an environment that evokes feelings of anxiety, fear, curiosity and wonderment.
Upon entering the darkened space, haunting, ambient sounds created by composer Joseph Stocker immediately set the tone for Mitchell’s mysterious films and sculptural installation. The sounds seem to build toward something but never crescendo, holding us in a tension-fueled psychological limbo. Stocker’s score, coupled with the ceaseless clicking whir of 12 vintage 16-mm projectors placed throughout the center of the room, compliment Mitchell’s mysterious films that create a loose and cryptic narrative around the actions of an ordinary middle-aged man.
In one projection, the man is running down a street, his expression subtly, but expertly conveying terror and dread. The camera cuts to what appears to be wolves chasing him. In the very next scene the same man stands forlorn in a skating rink, his restrained look showing fear and unease, as if his commonplace surroundings are totally alien to him. Then in another projection, the man wades fully clothed into the ocean, over and over again. Whether he drowns is never revealed and the following projections leave his fate open to interpretation.
While the scenes are mostly set in ordinary, everyday environments, you get the feeling that there are bigger forces at play. Something is terrorizing this man, the wolves are symbolic of that, but it seems the terror is bigger and more incomprehensible than this solitary figure can contemplate. This is suggested in one projection that rips us from our earthly foothold and transports us into the cosmos, with a sublime image of the moon rising over the earth.
There are many thematic layers, intricately and deftly woven throughout this multimedia experience, and they delve into the most profound contemplations, such as mortality, whether there is an afterlife, the possible futility of existence, the very nature of existence itself, the finite versus the infinite, to name just a few. Maybe some of these ideas and considerations are the truly frightening ones, because can they ever really be answered? Maybe the fear driving the nameless man is simply the unknown.
Among the projectors in the center of the gallery space sit actual life-size props from the film. The Subaru that appears in one of the scenes seems to have broken down, left abandoned among real tree branches and bramble. It’s surrounded by life-size, scarily realistic wolves stalking and circling the car; the only missing piece is the nameless man.
Is the gallery viewer then filling that role? Did Mitchell mean to literally insert the viewer into the narrative? Quite possibly yes, because the beauty of this entire experience is that the artist leaves enough to the imagination so that your own experiences, anxieties and questions will ultimately decide how you will interpret this enigmatic, thought-provoking environment.
What: “A Stranger in the Street at the Edge of the Earth,” interactive multimedia installation by David Mitchell and Joseph Stocker
When: Through Saturday
Where: Big Orbit Gallery, 30d Essex St.