The Rice Gallery at McDaniel College is currently hosting an installation and video by local artist Rick Delaney entitled “Stage.” The installation itself is simple: it consists of tarp draped around a 12’x12’ projection screen with a continuously-running video. The draping of the tarp is in such a way that it canopies and surrounds the screen to project images so that the viewer feels that they are surrounded by the piece and on the same plane as the figures in the video. Also, importantly, the figures projected onto the screen are life-sized giving them a personable feel. The focal point of the exhibit, the film “Stage” greatly benefits from its intimate environment, and, appropriately, is reminiscent of a theatrical performance.
“Stage,” features a hodgepodge of people ranging from Rick’s friends and family to ‘found’ people from Craiglist advertisements. These ‘performers’ are videotaped in their choice of setting (usually a comfortable room in their own home) while telling a poignant memory from their childhood. While this sounds like a Hallmark company-sponsored documentary at first, there is another important stipulation to these stories – they are all traumatic, uncomfortable, or disappointing.
“Stage” was a not a piece without much contemplation. Earlier work that inspired this piece, “Portrait of my Memoirs,” involved a public viewing of Delaney himself typing personal narratives of his childhood and taping them around his 72-hour holding chamber. Delaney was equally fascinated by the reaction of others to his narrative (some even shared stories of their own) as well as his own ability to conquer long-lost memories when in the right mindset. In order to shake things up a bit and expand the theme, Delaney came up with the concept of “Stage.”
While this piece could be dismissed as nothing more than personal-story-appropriation, I believe that this work goes a little deeper than this designation. Barring the time that was put into editing and setting up each personal narrative, the process of even reaching out to these people in order to have them share their most vulnerable childhood moments is irreplaceable. The ability of “Stage” to unlock deep and bottled memories in both the ‘performer’ and the viewer is unquestionable. As put by Rick Delaney himself, the objective of “Stage” is to evaluate the art of story-telling and the very way in which we process our own memories. In watching even a few of the narratives in “Stage,” it is impossible not to recognize and appreciate Delaney’s points.
Overall, I enjoyed listening to the stories of this piece, and couldn’t help but form my own interpretations of the described scenes. The execution of this work is dramatic and allows the viewer to imagine how the ‘performer’s’ life must have been impacted. One cannot help but be psychologically moved by many of the stories, as they are diverse enough to cater to any individual sensitivities. It is a riveting experience to watch the shifts in mannerisms, tones, quirks, and expressions in the ‘performers’ as they tell their stories. The spontaneity and candidness of the ‘performers’ in Delaney’s filmography is perfect.
If these stories had merely been written, much of their openness and soul would be lacking. In this sense, the subjectivity of the stories and their emotional content can be arguably as moving as a Rothko or Newman abstraction. The above being stated, I do have my criticisms of the work. At times, the audio portion of the video was frankly inaudible. The artist has addressed and vowed to correct this issue in future recordings, but it is still a distraction to the integrity of the piece. Overall, “Stage” is worth a visit!