About This Artwork

Helen Mirra
American, born 1970

Map of Parallel 52 North at a Scale of One Foot to One Degree, 1999

Hand-painted 16mm color film, silent, with film reel, can and lid in vitrine; 11 min. loop
Edition number one of four

Ann M. Vielehr Prize Fund, 2001.485

© 1999 Helen Mirra.

Helen Mirra’s widely varied production includes film, poetry, recorded music, sculpture, and video. Like many other practitioners of her generation, she has adopted and reconfigured the strategies of Conceptual Art to personal, often narrative, ends. Much of her work pairs ideas of travel and labor, with particular attention to themes of landscape, the sea, and childhood. Restricted to a palette of drab greens, browns, and blues, her creations are distinctly evocative of the natural landscape. Map of Parallel 52 North at a Scale of One Foot to One Degree represents an imaginary aerial circumnavigation of the globe, beginning and ending off the coast of Labrador. At this scale, the film is precisely 360 feet long, and its journey across the North Atlantic, Ireland, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, southern Russia, the Bering Sea, and southern Canada takes only eleven minutes from start to finish. At early screenings, Mirra’s presence added a performative aspect, as she would call out the names of locations along the way. Like many of her sculptures, the film is displayed at floor level; the presence of the reel, can, and lid within a nearby vitrine draws further attention to the work’s materiality. On the film itself, meandering brushstrokes send viewers into a sort of reverie, as the visual information flickers and moves too quickly to be followed. The artist eschewed traditional cartography in favor of translating the geography of this line of longitude into green and blue watercolor washes that represent land and water, and that were painted directly onto the film’s clear surface. In particular, the rapid variations in brightness of color recall flicker films, which are characterized by a similar visual quality and induce equally trancelike effects. Evoking the histories and practices of film, painting, and sculpture, Mirra’s work is a quietly powerful meditation on the human practice of understanding the world.

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