What if you spent all your time in virtual reality? “Rachel Rossin: Works from THE MAW OF” at Emerson Contemporary Media Art Gallery considers the way the digital world shapes human consciousness.
Video fills the walls in the trippy site-specific immersive installation “THE MAW OF,” originally commissioned by KW Institute of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Three round LED monitors, which Rossin calls “portals,” seem to float in midair.
Rossin created this world in the game engine UNITY. She performed the characters wearing a motion capture suit and recorded scenes with a thermal imaging camera. Big houses lit from within flicker on the wall. Glowing figures morph and slip away.
Our realities are built from perceptions — how our brains process scale, light, and space. Here, I felt myself fall almost into a trance, and cling to emotionally resonant bits as the dreamlike installation seemed to take me over. I recognized that disembodying effect from James Turrell light installations, in which edges disappear and it’s hard to place yourself.
Rossin envelops viewers in a virtual experience. Then she invites us to deconstruct it. Two “Scry Glass” pieces, videos on small, round LCD displays, evoke fortune tellers’ crystal balls. Ember-like details from “THE MAW OF” float within, but at this scale, the quality of perception changes; I felt focused, not lost, yet still had an otherworldly sense of enchantment.
The history of art is one of pushing viewers’ perceptions in ways that upend convention — of seeing and expressing things anew. A “Scry Glass” might be a crystal ball, or a Claude glass, an optical device named for 17th-century painter Claude Lorrain. Later painters used it to craft soft, romantic landscapes in his style.
Rossin’s paintings return us to tactile immediacy. “Angel in ‘Keeping’ Time. Age 11.” pairs her childhood drawings of biblical apocalypse and a self-portrait the artist made with a computer as a kid: a girl staring into a monitor and seeing herself, fantasies of end times. This, too, is a picture of human consciousness and how slippery, intimate, and mythic it is.
Gateways into new perceptions can feel terrifying. This show’s title alone suggests we’re soon to be swallowed whole. But the art reminds us we’ve been at similar edges before. It’s a wild ride — hold tight and see what happens.
RACHEL ROSSIN: Works from THE MAW OF
At Emerson Contemporary Media Art Gallery, 25 Avery St., through Oct. 14. https://emersoncontemporary.org/event/rachel-rossin-the-maw-of/