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Jamie Isenstein
Acéphal Magical
September 6 - October 20, 2007

For Jamie Isenstein’s 2007 solo exhibition Acéphal Magical at Andrew Kreps Gallery, Isenstein took on the role of the magician’s assistant in the midst of the classic “Sawing the Lady in Half” illusion. Rather than being sawed in half though, the illusion was of “sawing the lady at the neck”, suggesting that half of the box contains a body and the other half contains the head. For weeks all that was visible of Isenstein were her legs as they protruded from the lower half of the magician’s box. When Isenstein needed to go on breaks a “Will Return” sign hung inside the box to indicate when she would return. During her absence, the top half of the box remained closed to suggest her head remained while her headless body roamed free. Inspired by examples of the living dead, such as the headless horseman, zombies, or more importantly Georges Bataille’s figure of the Acéphal, Isenstein reflects on the concept of art living beyond its creator and the role of the artist within a work of art.

In line with this concept, other works in the installation furthered the theme of headlessness but also provided a counterpoint in head surrogates.  A video of a magician with a top hat for a head played a musical saw in concert with a video of an oscillating fan that blew air over bottles of water. The sound of the musical saw mimicked human voice, while the fan replaced the mouth’s ability to blow. Also in the gallery was a monitor on the floor that played a video of isolated hands clapping. The sound of the clapping hands triggered a Clapper device to turn on and off a lamp. The lamp became a stand-in for a performer who responds to applause, and the Clapper became a stand-in for ears.

Much of Isenstein’s work jockeys between points and counterpoints. The work in the exhibition Acéphal Magical meditates on themes of theatrical magic but then counters this theme with everyday phenomena. Likewise, her performances in which she incorporates her body into objects for long durations often rely on her presence but then offer an equally compelling solution for when she is absent.  In doing so, Isenstein’s performances never truly end but instead go into extended intermissions. This way, unlike most performance or endurance art that has a starting and stopping point, Isenstein’s performances become more like sculptures that last indefinitely. Isenstein hopes to ask questions about what a sculpture or performance can be and what is the nature of an artist’s relationship to their work as it lasts beyond them.