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Nessie Comes to the ICA

When is contemporary art no longer contemporary? At what point does the Institute of Contemporary Art’s collection become dated? Is there even a point to their establishing a collection, or should they just display the work of an artist for a limited amount of time and not have any permanent collection? These are some heady questions that were brought about by the ICA’s mission statement and likely to cause head pain and confusion if pondered upon too much.

The Institute of Contemporary Art’s Momentum series was designed to give artists’ gallery space at a museum. Currently they are on their 12th installation by Irish artist Gerard Byrne entitled Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Some Problems). The installation is the artist’s exploration behind the phenomena of Loch Ness and the Loch Ness monster. For those not familiar with it, Loch Ness is a lake in Scotland supposedly inhabited by a monster (called Nessie) that may be a dinosaur, or a previously unknown species, or a log. One wall of the exhibit is a partial timeline of sightings of Nessie drawn on the wall, correlated to the rings in the stump of a tree lying on the ground in front of said wall. This is ironic in that Nessie may just be a stump like the one presented by the artist. On the other walls are black and white photographs of Loch Ness and surrounding areas. Many of the photographs show dark shapes or unidentified objects in the water that upon closer inspection turn out to be logs, people, or animals.

In the center of the gallery is a series of pedestals that hold an old slide projector, an 8mm film, and headphones. The 8mm film displays shots of the lake and people talking about the monster, however there is no audio so this is speculation on my part. The slide projector projects images of exploration under the lake by divers and sketches of the area and the monster. The headphones play an audio track of a man with a Scottish accent talking theatrically about Loch Ness and the monster. All of these are on an infinite loop, of course.

While the installation is an exploration of the mystic surrounding Loch Ness, the supposed monster features into much of the exhibit limitedly. Many of the photographs remind me of rural Maine and lakes I’ve been to there, as they are simply images of the water with some people in or around it, and sometimes a dog or a log floating in the water. Essentially, if you weren’t told these images were of Loch Ness you wouldn’t think it was anything special, but as we are being told it is Loch Ness, the mystique of the area and the monster enters into the viewers mind making the photograph something more. This installation could in fact be an exploration into the human psyche, you could simply take photos of any rural lake and tell the viewer it was Loch Ness and they would still think of it in the context of the monster. Over all it’s a very interesting installation and well worth a look if you get a chance. Momentum 12 is on view at the ICA to March 1st, 2009.