Through the Looking Glass 

In her 2007 short film, Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck, British artist Emily Wardill explores how social behavior is shaped by visual metaphors, such as the holy scenes depicted in stained glass that suggested the proper way to live a life. Wardill subverts this idea by having a plummy-voiced narrator discuss the multitude of colors to be found in naturally-occurring glass and crystal while we see a stained glass window -- in black and white. Color images of church windows give way to actors in biblical costume emulating these same figures, but now engaging in banal and stilted conversations. There's a humorous element to the juxtaposition, but there's also a knowing wink at the ridiculousness of it all. The silence of these instructional figures is part of their power; once you hear them speak they become human and less imperious, because they're as boring as the rest of us. And of course, there's the uncomfortable friction that accompanies the realization that you've gleaned this knowledge of control and power from watching a film -- a form of visual metaphor not so dissimilar to stained glass windows. Emily Wardill: Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck opens with a free public reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 9, at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or The exhibition remains up through Friday, December 30, and the museum is open every day except Monday. Regular admission is $3 to $5, but free on Wednesday and Saturday.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Sept. 9. Continues through Dec. 30, 2011

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