Is it Real or is it Ecstasy?

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[caption id="attachment_2457" align="alignnone" width="577"]Upside-Down Mushroom Room, Carsten Holler. 2000. Photo Attilio Marazano. Image courtesy MOCA.[/caption]

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA reopens with a mind-blowing myriad of imaginative works that depart from reality

Ecstasy. n. a state of being overpowered by emotion, as by joy, grief, passion.

The Museum of Contemporary Art exemplifies the word in an exhibition that is dedicated to overwhelm, enthrall and suspend time and space. Ecstasy: In and About Altered States is a provocative and stimulating body of works that expands the perception of “what is real” through the minds of thirty contemporary artists. Ecstasy, not unlike the drug of that name, takes us on a fantasy-like journey where we experience the influence of many of the artists’ own mind-altering, drug-induced states.

Ecstasy features an international survey of painting, sculpture, video, installation, photography, and new media that fall into two modes of perception—representational and experiential.

As we enter into this world of “altered consciousness,” the first area of experimen- tation examines the process of self-observation in artistic media. The representational form expresses the relationship between creativity and altered states induced by mind- altering drugs. In Organism (2005), Fred Tomaselli’s new resinsuspended collage suggests a process of transformation from the physical into a spiritual realm by depicting a figure tumbling head first into a web of birds, butterflies and exotic flowers. This piece produces a dream-like experience and we continue to feel these effects from the artists’ works of self-discovery. Matt Mullican’s piece, Under Hypnosis: Geneva, 2004, a split- screen projection, documents himself as he moves through tasks such as drawing, reading, and pacing while under hypnosis. In Rodney Graham’s Halcion Sleep (1996), we find ourselves part of Graham’s ride through the rainy streets of Vancouver asleep in the back of the car after ingesting the drug Halcion.

Now we begin to tumble down the “rabbit hole.” Our imagination soars as we land in the experiential mode, playing within interactive installations and environments created to disrupt and disorient our view of space and scale. A display of several three-meter high sculptures of psychotropic mushrooms seems to spout from above. Inverted and suspended from the ceiling, artist Carsten Höller’s Upside Down Mushroom Room (2000, Stockholm) creates a hallucinogenic experience by spinning the giant mushrooms at various speeds as they descend to eye- level. Mind-blowing? There’s more. In Donut (2003) by Ann Veronica Janssens, we are treated to an installation consisting of projections of flashing color pulsing at regular intervals and filling a darkened room with a series of concentric circles of soothing blues and greens. The result is a dizzying, sensorial experience.

Many of the works such as Charles Ray’s 1990 self-portrait, Yes, fit into both modes of experimentation. This life-size photograph of the artist taken while he was on LSD appears to be perpendicular to the floor at first glance, but the space bows out as if we were looking at it under the same drug-induced state.

As the journey continues into a “wonderland” of fascinating interpretations of reality, we discover an exciting collection of established and emerging artists including Franz Ackermann, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Francis Alÿs, Chiho Aoshima, Massimo Bartolini, Tatsurou Bashi, Glenn Brown, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Olafur Eliasson, Lara Favaretto, Sylvie Fleury, Tom Friedman, Jeppe Hein, Pierre Huyghe, Ann Lislegaard, Takashi Murakami, Paul Noble, Roxy Paine, Erwin Redl, Pipilotti Rist, Paul Sietsema, and Klaus Weber.

Our final destination, sadly, is the return to the “real world” in its actual state. This experience allowed us a unique and extraordinary opportunity to depart from reality, if only for a short time.

MOCA’s Chief Curator, Paul Schimmel, has developed a reputation for taking risks so that audiences may connect to contemporary art and culture beyond the traditional mode. This cutting-edge exhibition provides a diversity of artistic media which stimulate personal and intellectual experimentation through interactive connection.

“Many of the works in Ecstasy: In and About Altered States engender a resounding impact by offering an unparalleled experience for museum visitors of all ages who are able to engage with the installations and works included in the exhibition first hand,” said Gloria Sutton, MOCA Project Coordinator. “Because the work included in the exhibition represents an important undercurrent in contemporary art, addressing a concern that is at once topical and timeless, the issues raised by the exhibition will no doubt continue to have a lasting impact.”

Art in its authentic state can draw in the viewer and make him or her part of the experience. Ecstasy at the Geffen Contemporary takes us beyond that state and “through the looking glass.”

Move over Alice.

Image: Organism, Fred Tomaselli. 2005. Leaves, photo-collage, acrylic, gouache, and resin on wood panel. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie carlier/gebauer. Photo courtesy James Cohan Gallery.