Robin Bernat's 'quietude' a layered meditation

What if your living room rug dissolved into moss, your walls became a folding paper screen and a saffron tapestry dropped from the sky to embellish your most intimate conversation? Instead of MTV, sitcoms and commercials, what if your television emitted dappled idyllic reveries? Forget the idea of home as castle. With the proper ingredients, you could transport your digs into a cedar-scented Zen sanctuary. That's what happens in "quietude," Robin Bernat's newest work at Solomon Projects.

Perhaps it's the fact that the Atlanta artist is a stalwart romantic. Her earlier self-centered works often seemed too drawn out, cloying and sentimental. This time, though, there is more complexity in Bernat's multi-faceted installation. Four 19-inch monitors line the length of two console tables, which sit on a rectangle of moss. T-pinned to the wall behind them are 135 small penciled drawings of tiny pebbles from a Zen garden. A red viewing bench invites the viewer to enter Bernat's layered meditation.

In keeping with her self-conscious work, "quietude's" imagery is drawn from the artist's personal environment. To the far left, the views are of sun and sky glinting through a tall bamboo forest that sways in a breeze. (Bernat passes the exotic forest en route to a lake house near Atlanta.) The second video records the ritual of lighting the sea of glass votive candles on a rectangular wood table in her home. In this sequence, the candles are lit, then shimmer in light and darkness before being swept up in the artist's embracing arms. A third visual narrative shows, first Bernat dancing with her lover in front of a red orange tapestry, then her cat gliding around ceramic vases on a table in her living room. Her fourth vista is a lake (Lake Lanier). The camera follows the tree-edged shore line, then rests on the surface of the water in a spring rain.

Bernat's looped video vignettes play in concert with a three-element sound track. The most dominant tone is a jazz fusion of clarinet and traditional Japanese instruments. Then comes Bernat's voice reading "quietude," her sonnet on love and remorse that speaks of the pain and pleasure in what she calls "the useless dream of perfection." And finally, off to the right, a whispering Bernat reads a passage from an American Buddhist nun's writing about passion and patience.

The 34-year-old Bernat began writing poetry as a child. Her artmaking began less than a decade ago, and the meditative video works debuted in 1997. Her 1998 "effortless" caught the fancy of Whitney Biennial 2000 curators. The video is now screening weekly in New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The problem with "quietude" is its insistence on a still surround. To experience the work's resonant harmony, the viewer should be left entirely alone and undistracted. That might prove impossible in such a public setting, but remember: The thoughtful encounter Bernat proposes is all about taking a deep breath of artificial reality.

Robin Bernat's "quietude" is on view through May 13 at Solomon Projects, 1037 Monroe Drive, 404-875-7100. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. "effortless" screens Thursdays at 2 p.m. through June 4 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

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