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Annie Briard at AC Institute: The Desert of the Real

Annie Briard, Second Sight. Installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist

Annie Briard - "Second Sight"

AC Institute (by appointment) 

May 8 - May 31, 2019 


When one arrives by petite elevator to AC Institute, a door opens to the kaleidoscopic gates of Canadian artist Annie Briard’s exhibition title “Second Sight” bookended by two pulsing prisms. Lured by the soundscape a room further, you encounter a video piece projected onto the far wall which breaks off in holographic fragments of various quantities and qualities onto the adjacent walls and floor. The dark room is awash in a desert scene. Light ricochets off walls, careening geometrically. This is approximately what one can expect from Briard’s latest installation. However, as “Second Sight” demonstrates, perception makes for an acutely particular and problematic visual experience.

The manipulated footage of Joshua Tree, as the press release describes, recalls both “disused military optics” and visions of psychedelia, one of which might be a consequence of the other. The choice of Joshua Tree as a site for the project may be informed by the same intentions as Briard’s “Constructions” series, which alters 2-D images into 3-D constructions to contest their sublime quality and create physical space in the image to document the erasure of people and histories. It is in this way that an image can be made hyperreal. Joshua Tree in California’s Mojave Desert is known to be a hotbed of spiritual vision by travelers. It also houses a major military base, 29 Palms, and is a space of historically indigenous inhabitation. In Briard’s piece, all three zones are represented, as if each were a corner of the Joshua Tree prism.

Annie Briard, Second Sight. Installation view. Photo courtesy of AC Institute

The unsteady nature of “reality” as it is perceived (seen) is influenced by a number of things: memory, ideology, and eye ability among them. Briard deconstructs the site, which we each approach with distinct optics, to shapes and color spectrum. The uncanny form of the Joshua trees themselves reinforces this effect. Joshua trees, the common name of the species, are really yucca. In an interview with Magnolia Pauker, Briard points to the temperamental “common knowledge” view of the world, which extends to language here as well. 

The prisms are sourced from a larger project titled “Color Spectres” and an early, shorter iteration of the video included in “Second Sight” is titled “Carousel.” Both can be seen on the artist’s website. As the name implies, “Color Spectres” understands vision as both physical and psychic. Briard’s “Second Sight” functions like a third eye with its numerical and/or hierarchical value, supposing that an illusory vision is more ubiquitous than mystical. The presence of the title text and prisms at the opening of the show announces, airport-style, a departure from straightforward perception before even stepping in. The integration of “Color Spectres” into “Second Sight” fortifies the artist’s overlapping, interdisciplinary vision. 

Annie Briard, Second Sight. Installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist

The music of “Second Sight” was described by Briard to be a composition of singing crystal bowls, chimes and tuning forks, vocals, and computer-generated pulsations. Theta waves thoughtfully created by Briard attune the brainwaves to a mode more imaginative or creative. Briard’s research led her to a NASA theory debunking UFO and ghost sightings as hallucinations induced by sound, which might vibrate the iris or neurologically spur a vision. 

The affect of the music, in combination with the isolation of light in the moving image, recalls Pipilotti Rist’s “Pixel Forest” in which the artist separated individual pixels of her film into luminous hanging, rough-edged pixel rocks. Rist’s immersive ecology of color and sound is not so distant from Briard’s mapping. By working with extensions of the eye (lens, camera, moving image), Briard is able to shift from the imaginary to the nature of “reality” and media itself. Whereas Rist’s installation supports a large-scale communal gathering , Briard’s is a private and intimate screening difficult to catch on camera.

Annie Briard, Second Sight. Installation view. Photo courtesy of AC Institute

Another project that comes to mind is artist Kate Ballis’s “Infra Realism” series, which captures Palm Springs using infrared lighting. The candied saturation of the desertscape makes for a pleasurable aesthetic experience, but the lens (used domestically by crop farmers) more interestingly documents the health of plants in the desert region. Healthier plants produce a deeper level of infrared than their health-poorer counterparts. What seems like an inhospitable and drab climate becomes visually as well as physically vibrant. Briard’s desert project, full of movement, texture, and mystery, reaches toward a similar (perhaps more philosophical) effect. 

Annie Briard, Second Sight. Installation view. Photo courtesy of AC Institute

Digital color alteration has a different, overlaid effect than land art’s direct injection of pigment into the sand. The blue filter used intermittently in the project specifically recalled, for me, footage of the “gender reveal” theater in the Arizona desert that ultimately sparked a 45k acre wildfire. Although color as a spectrum is universal, humans code individual colors and inflict them upon the natural world in a way that is wholly disruptive. The cake is sliced. The Gender Reveal Boom Box explosive is ignited with a rifle. While this is known (even overstated), further prophetic theorizing might suggest that the smoke was fated to be blue. The explosion could not have happened any other way, linking itself automatically to a long historical chain of instances of the patriarchal ego interfering with the natural world to a devastating effect. The man responsible was a border patrol agent, after all. I’m eager to both address this instance of an IRL “filter” and demarcate it from Briard’s project. This tragic event, fueled by a multiplicity of societal narratives, stands as a foil against Briard’s project, which rolls forward with no willing narrative—a process easier said than done. 

Annie Briard, Second Sight. Installation view. Photo courtesy of AC Institute

In the much-discussed opening to Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard presents a reading of the Borges cartography fable, which concludes with “The desert of the real itself” (1). Briard plays on the punned ending: both a departure from the real and the only landscape that might host shreds of metaphysical beauty. Each waving, hazy Joshua tree demands a different attention dispersed between separated frames. Through cracked windows or torn sails on a road trip in the hot, high desert, the viewer begins their journey in seeing the natural world for what it is and isn’t. The exhibition leaves the lingering sensation of a psychedelic trip: with some feeling and few words. “Second Sight” briefly displaces the viewer from an uber-urban environment to one that is ancient and altered, natural and ephemeral, “no longer … of the Empire, but our own” (2). WM


1. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser, The University of Michigan Press, 1994.

2. Ibid. 

Cori Hutchinson

Cori Hutchinson is a writer living in Brooklyn.

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