Have you ever had the feeling that you were being watched? Have you ever taken the subway and felt someone’s eyes looking at you? That feeling of being seen in an uncomfortable and almost invasive way was how I felt seeing Dana Clancy’s exhibition, Intimate Distance, at Boston University. The architecture of the GSU Sherman Gallery is the perfect design for this exhibit; as you walk up the stairs you can feel the eyes of her paintings looking at you through the entirely glass walls that face the outside. As you walk in and wonder through the space you are never really quite sure if it is the gaze of the people in the artwork or the people outside that glass that make you feel uneasy.
I first encountered Clancy’s work in the exhibit, Face to Face, at the Green Street Gallery in 2003 where she had portraits with compositions that looked like they had been painted by looking through a peep hole, or from snapshots imprinted in your head by catching someone out of the corner of your eye. Clancy’s delicate and deliberate painting style creates a space of tension on the canvas. At first glance they are strange and kind of story-like, but the more you look the more you are looked at in a variety of uncomfortable ways.
In this new exhibit Clancy show us that there are many ways of being seen. On one wall are some landscapes, with a deck or a piece of architecture, that have people gathered or the people look as though they are missing from the scene. On another wall there are a series of small works that portray people looking out at the viewer from behind binoculars. If you move out of the way the subjects are staring at the people in the paintings on the wall across form them. While it is not uncommon to view many things in life through binoculars it is still an obstructed way of looking at anything. Binoculars are uncomfortable, you are usually viewing from a distance, and often you are spying on something you aren’t meant to see. Being the subject of that gaze is discomforting and I wonder if the artist is intending to make me want to leave her exhibition, because when being stared at, you move until you are no longer in the voyeur’s line of site. Moving to another place in this gallery does not relieve the tension of being both the spy and the spied upon. If you are looking at a series on one wall, there are eyes behind you and to both sides of you. In a way Clancy’s work is more like an installation in how it changes the psychological space of the gallery.
My favorite piece in this exhibition is an entire wall painted a shade of green-grey with a faint brownish map-like image as the backdrop that connects groups of small paintings. There are several small paintings of people who are grouped together and describing the various lines of site becomes like something out of a comedy routine,
They see me looking at those two over there, who look back at that guy who sees that girl looking at the person next to him while the whole time I can see everything that is going on.
It looked like an illustration of having friends on the Internet, having that uncomfortable space between you and those you seek out and what connects you is simply having the desire to look. This was the moment where I really loved being in the gallery with all of Dana Clancy’s different visions of how we look and how we are looked at. The wall piece is to me a diagramed explanation of how we interact every day, intimately with distance, with desire and with discomfort. While we can’t stop looking, or stop wanting to turn and see where that feeling of being watched is coming from, we also can’ t always find words to describe these non-interactions. So we go to Intimate Distance, in the glass gallery and be seen looking at Clancy’s exhibition. Here we realize that we don’t need to have words, we all have these experiences and we can all share in the wonderful feeling of looking and the enjoy the discomfort of knowing there are eyes always on you in this space.
Intimate Distance Information at BU website.
"Dana Clancy: Intimate Distance" is on view November 2 - December 16, 2005 at the GSU Sherman Gallery at Boston University, 775 Commonwealth Ave in Boston.
All images are courtesy of the artist and the GSU Sherman Gallery.