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Fantasy is a place to retreat, recharge in these artist videos

A still from Allison Maria Rodriguez's "In My Own Backyard."Allison Maria Rodriguez

Between 6 p.m. and midnight each night, innocent dreams play in the windows of Emerson College’s Media Art Gallery, where six of Cuban-American artist Allison Maria Rodriguez’s short video animations play on loops in an installation called “Subversive Dreams.”

The videos are part of Rodriguez’s “Legends Breathe” series, springing from childhood fantasies employed by nonbinary and female-identified artists to contend with trauma, which they shared with the artist. This installation is one of AREA CODE Art Fair’s Special Projects.

Rodriguez steeps her visually sumptuous videos in nature; stars cascade, flocks of cardinals and monarchs flutter through. The onesie-wearing grownup protagonist of “In My Own Backyard” travels in a pink tent from a bed of clouds through several lovely landscapes and lands on a lily pad. In “Divine Night,” a figure in a blue monk’s robe reclines in a manger beneath a brilliant star, surrounded by white animals, reading.


A still from Allison Maria Rodriguez's "Divine Night."Allison Maria Rodriguez

The artist highlights endangered animals and habitats in these works, linking the innocence of childhood with that of the natural world, both imperiled by runaway power and greed.

The videos are gorgeous to look at, as compulsively gratifying as candy corn. But what are they about? Society often frowns on fantasy as an escapist retreat, and Rodriguez offers a corrective: Fantasy as salvation, a source of solace, a place of regeneration. More than that, and maybe especially for artists, it is a superpower.

For all their splendor, the videos are sad; they feel sealed off, like scenes inside snow globes — peaceful, but heavily fortified, as if security and joy are found only in the purest solitudes.

Still. Rodriguez presents the core of imagination, or any contemplative practice: a nurturing presence with oneself. It’s something we all need before we can connect in a healthy way with others or begin to change the world. Action is risky, and to take it we must feel fundamentally safe. And perhaps that means withdrawing to a pink tent on a cloud, if only for a moment.



At Media Art Gallery, Emerson College, 25 Avery St., through Aug. 30. https://today.emerson.edu/2020/07/30/emerson-colleges-new-digital-video-exhibition-features-animations-by-allison-maria-rodriguez/

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.