Exhibitions

Adam Ekberg (2007)

Artists

Adam Ekberg

Chicago Sun Times by Kevin Nance (text)

Ekberg casts his spell with ‘Disco Ball’

August 17, 2007
BY KEVIN NANCE Critic-at-Large
You don’t have to set foot in a gallery to see one of the most captivating works of art visible in the Windy City this summer. You stand, instead, on the sidewalk outside the West Loop’s Thomas Robertello Gallery, where Chicago artist Adam Ekberg’s mesmerizing video installation, “Disco Ball in the Woods” (2006), is playing in a 4½-minute loop in the window.
It’s magical in more ways than one. Shot on a wintry mountain in the Maine woods at the blue hour of dusk, the video shows something at once utterly foreign and yet weirdly at home in that context: a spinning, twinkling disco ball that sends swatches of yellow light dancing and bouncing off the nearby trees and snow-blanketed ground. Every so often, the light hits the camera’s lens and refracts, dazzling the viewer like the flash of a beacon from a distant lighthouse.

The disco ball might seem at first like a kitschy reference to the ‘70s, and the artist’s use of it smirkingly ironic in the manner of Duchamp. As you stand and watch, though, that reading comes to seem inadequate in the face of the beauty, silence and strangeness of the video, which tends to draw you into a meditative if not hypnotic state.

A more appropriate reference is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Ward robe, whose fans (and those who’ve seen the 2005 movie) might recognize something familiar about this out-of-place, man-made source of illumination in a cold and darkening forest. In the book and movie, it was a street lamp; in Ekberg’s piece, it’s a disco ball. Both are signposts marking the entry to a parallel world — an altered, fantastic and likely enchanted place where you learn what’s been hovering there all along, just outside the limited range of your senses.

When I suggest the Narnia connection to Ekberg, a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he says he read Lewis’ novel as a child but hadn’t been thinking of it, at least consciously, while creating “Disco Ball.” But he warms to the comparison, which resonates with his concept of the piece as what you might call, in not quite the Harry Potter sense, an exercise in magic.
“I like that idea of a spell,” says Ekberg, 31. “I love winter, and I love the woods, because a lot of my childhood was spent there, in tree houses, forts and paths with my friends. My family just had a black-and-white TV with three channels, so the woods were a place where you made your own world. The disco ball was an effort to make something magical happen in that world.”

The first version of “Disco Ball” was a photograph, which the artist made in 2005 by lugging a camera, a smoke machine, a car battery and a power inverter up a mountainside in Rome, Maine. The resulting image was so beautiful and beguiling that he returned the following year for the video that’s now in the Robertello Gallery window. (It’s best seen at night, at 9 p.m. or later. You can also see it, in less than optimum conditions, on the artist’s Web site, www.adamekberg.com.)

“In an actual disco, the ball doesn’t really deliver on the magic it’s supposed to provide, in part because it’s become such a cliche,” Ekberg says. “But to see it in the woods was truly spectacular. It achieved the type of magic that a disco ball in, say, a dance in a high school gymnasium just doesn’t have.”

Maybe the oddest thing about the image, in both the still photo and the video, is how the disco ball seems to have found the place it was always meant to be — where, you might say, it wanted to be. You want to be there, too.

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