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Capturing Scenes Unseen

Posted on 17 August 2012

By Joan Baum

It may not have been what she intended, but when Sag Harbor artist Jill Musnicki took the old expression “what goes around comes around” and called her innovative installation “what comes around,” she was significantly shifting the meaning.

The original saying suggests that whatever the cycle, the end will return to the beginning. It can also mean that there are always consequences for one’s actions. In truncating the adage, the artist focused on chance, not inevitability.

Who knew what would appear before the digital cameras she set up (five of them) in remote East End areas, from Bridgehampton to Montauk, day and night, from May to August, ready to capture wildlife? But she was an artist, open to risk and eager to bring nature into the creative process — animals and birds, undisturbed by the presence of humans, going about their ordinary lives;  deer, mice, raccoons, foxes, opossums wandering in and out of close ups, caught in poses they would otherwise never provide.

“Normally I’m a painter,” she says, “and still am, but this idea had been brewing in my head for some time and The Parrish Road Show offered an opportunity to realize it.”

The Road Show, so named because the museum is still under construction and many exhibitions must take place in other venues, says Parrish Program director Andrea Grover, is part of “several recent dynamic initiatives” designed “to expand the parameters of what the Parrish does, to broaden the traditional understanding of the function of an art museum”; to exemplify the museum’s “mission” to exhibit artists living on The East End,” and engage them and the community “in the co-creation of events.”

The show was  “specifically envisioned, she adds, “as a way to move our loyal audience (psychologically and physically) toward our new facility in Water Mill, and the future.” Ms. Musnicki was one of four artists commissioned who were eager to work “in uncommon ways and in unpredictable environments. “

As a fourth-generation East End resident whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century and established potato farms in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, Musnicki says she was able to choose venues that were relatively unknown to visitors or recent homeowners. She had used the cameras “for another purpose a couple years ago and saw some potential for an art piece, so I had some ideas that came to fruition when The Parrish asked me to be a part of The Road Show.”

She originally thought of the project “as a nostalgia piece. I took the cameras to places that I had a youthful connection to, and in particular, places that were miraculously unchanged since I was a child. I got very excited by the moments captured and started to extend the boundaries of the project.”

She wanted to capture what goes on in some of the very few undeveloped land areas around here. . . “we used to play all over that land, then it became more built up — less land , less access to the unused land, and I wanted to know what was happening.”

She was astonished, she says, not just at what the camera revealed but how: “Because of the way the camera operates, the images unexpectedly became sequential and animated when played in fast succession, like stop motion film. Watching the images download, I was always surprised by what subjects were captured. Sometimes there were just 100 images, and other times, tens of thousands. I never knew what would be found.”

She describes the results, as an “immersive installation,” a look at “the natural and built environment of the East End through the lens of strategically placed, motion-activated surveillance cameras. Placed in uncultivated landscapes, the cameras document the normally unseen passages of wildlife and human life, and their intersecting activities.”

Since she began shooting, she has accumulated 150,000 images, leaving cameras in place for a week before moving them. Sometimes, the yield is zero, as when she once found herself looking at a blade of grass that got in the way, but as the title says, you never know “what comes around.”

What prompted the idea in the first place? The answer provokes a laugh. It seems there was a burglar in her area — a family member as well as neighbors had been victimized — and so the suggestion arose to set up a tracking camera. Independent of that idea, the perpetrator was caught, but artistic possibilities took hold. Oh! would that albino deer come back, all white with brown spots, but he seems to have made just one visit.

Other participating artists in The Road Show are: Maziar Behrooz, an award-winning architect, who offered “free guided meditation sessions, led by celebrated Dharma teacher Kelly Morris, within a modified container he constructed, the RDMU (Rapid Deployment Meditation Unit”; Jameson Ellis (Ms. Musnicki’s husband) who exhibited “hybrid micro manufactured designs that linked functionality and aesthetics;” and  Alice Hope, who works with metal and steel, explored ways of  working with these materials according to “principles of magnetism” (her project  runs through August 31).

“What Comes Around” runs Friday August 17, 6:30 -8:30 p.m., and Saturday, August 18, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the Engine Barn at the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Corwith Avenue location. Three versions of the project are on exhibit: a short film clip, individual large scale prints from a book Musnicki’s just completed on the project and the installation itself, “a three-screen video projection with thousands of rapid-cycling images.”

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2 Responses to “Capturing Scenes Unseen”

  1. Laszlo Kiss says:

    What I find funny about this story and in particular about the project is how in this case reality imitates art (or fiction). In the now 14 yo movie “Enemy of the State” an important but minor character does exactly what Ms. Musnicki has done, use motion activated cameras to record the movement patterns of wild animals. How’s that for “What Comes around”?

  2. Exhibit also is open on Sunday, August 19, 11AM-5PM. Thanks, Joan!

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