San Antonio, Texas. ART Magazine.
Located on a dark corner in Hemisfair Park, Bianca Pitman’s installation was almost past unperceived. As I walked towards its location, I saw people coming out from a dark hallway in between the trees of a dense garden; entering the space did feel like walking into the woods. There were some broken vintage toys laying on the ground or installed among the trees, while a stone archway framed the projected video on the white brick wall. “What the f**?” “What a creep!” “This is how it begins they take you into the woods and then they kill you”, were some of the comments of the uncomfortable audience while they experienced the work. While some people mocked the piece others were really angry, which made me realize how powerful and unsettling this piece was for the audience.
I can relate to their reaction. They were made vulnerable by being taken to an unnerving environment to watch a film that could be easily related to any commercial scary movie, but a good one apparently. The darkness, the strong imagery, the black-hair innocent child, and the forest, were strong visual elements that evoked a powerful vibe, which was translated as fear. However, that strong and uncomfortable vibe turns is labeled once the story behind it is known.
Bianca Pitman lost a child and now raises her other two children, who constantly remind her of the life her past child would have. Her work is about loss. “Through the struggle with my own personal existence I have come to understand that a loss can define a person. Loss is strong enough to make everything else seem trivial and insignificant. Loss can turn into a darkness that suffocates you with fear”, says Pittman. The artist relates to Gothic practices of photographing the dead. Even though this practice might sound twisted, it has happened since the middle ages (when people would commission dead infants‘ portraits) and it is still practiced today. When those little children die, there is nothing left from them, not a picture, not many memories, so the only way to have something to remember that your child happened is sometimes a photo or depiction of him, even if he or she is dead.
The final product talks by itself, and we should not need to know the artist’s intention to grasp the feelings evoked. It was great to see people have a genuine reaction from a piece of art; that is very hard to accomplish these days. The energy was very strong, but, Was it emanated successfully? I believe so. Pessimistic death is not something we are curious about. Scandalizing death, yes, celebrities’ death, yes, but when it becomes personal it’s not fun anymore. The installation explored the different types of rejection towards serious, personal, and vulnerable themes in art. Humor, anger, and denial, where some of the escapes the audience used to avoid this unpleasant subject. The depiction of a starving child in Africa is moving and accepted, but when we are physically and emotionally taken into a vulnerable forest placed into a forceful sad and empty feeling, we react against it.
Past the cliché associations with scary movies and Gothic imagery, Pitman’s work provides an undeniable strong energy and a moving atmosphere that powerfully conveys emptiness, fear, and loss. There were some visual elements that made the piece stronger: the brick texture on the wall of the projection, which blurred the image making it more mysterious, the toys placed throughout the garden, which brought the video into the space of the viewer, and the imagery used, which was not scandalizing but in context became immensely affecting. The physicality of the installation was enhanced by its location and the reenactment of the video’s plot in real life. As the girl in the video, the viewer walks into the woods among broken toys to find the hopeless little girl in a endangered atmosphere. Pitman’s ability to place the viewer in this vulnerable and fearful state of impotence and nakedness is what bothers the audience and ultimately claims success of the piece.