Imagine a surreal light spa beneath the gardens of James Deering’s lush winter home Vizcaya! That’s what New York-based artist and MacArthur Fellow Josiah McElheny did in his evocative film The Light Club of Vizcaya: A Women’s Picture as the current exhibition of the Museum’s Contemporary Arts Project (CAP). The exhibition was on view at Vizcaya from November 19, 2012 through March 18, 2013.
The premise of the thirty-minute film references a little-known short story by German writer Paul Scheerbart, The Light Club of Batavia, published in 1912. Architecture, as the means to realize dreams and fantasies, is the main theme of Scheerbart’s satirical short story and Vizcaya’s architecture and geographical location almost perfectly echo the setting of Scheerbart’s novella.
The characters in Scheerbart’s story become obsessed with the construction of an underground light spa built entirely out of Tiffany glass. McElheny substitutes Scheerbarts’ main characters with those who were involved in the making of Vizcaya and its history, and recreates a narrative about the promise of modernity and utopia. The film collages footage of historical and archival documents with images of Vizcaya’s grounds, interiors and architectural elements today. In the absence of live actors and dialogue, the narrative unfolds through a series of stills and moving images accompanied by Zoe Leonard’s voice-over narration. The script was written by Canadian-born poet Rachel Zolf.
About the Artist
McElheny investigates the overlap between fact and fiction, dominant history, and plausible alternative narratives in his artwork. Best known for his visually compelling glass installations, he draws from a range of disciplines - history, architecture, physics and literature, among others - and works in a variety of media. Trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and glass foundries in Europe, McElheny is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and commissions, including the MacArthur Fellowship and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.