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Art Review: Nicole Miller at LAXART

August 13, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Conductor In Nicole Miller's curiously mesmerizing video projection at LAXART, we see a man from the waist up, in T-shirt and sport coat, facing us but never making eye contact. During the seven-minute piece, the man’s eyes bulge and squint, his lips and cheeks stretch, clench and distend, tense and ease. His head jerks and bobs as his body spasms, shoulders lifting and dropping, torso compressing and extending. Whether this is a performance or some kind of involuntary seizure becomes clear with the work’s title, "The Conductor."

Miller amps up the significance and oddity of the man’s behavior by stripping down the portrait, divorcing the conductor from his functional context: There is no concert hall, no orchestra and, most jarringly, no sound. His arms remain fixed at his sides as he operates in silence against a nonspecific background of gold, white and crimson bursts. His bodily choreography verges on the parodic and grotesque, and yet there is great poignancy in his complete immersion in the task of bringing music to life.

From start to finish, he physicalizes a broad spectrum of feeling, musical and otherwise, registering excitement, amusement, whimsy, anticipation, skepticism, bliss, concern and rapture. Is it important that the actor wears what looks to be a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, and that he, too, is African American? Miller, fresh from the MFA program at USC, gives us this quirky, slightly cryptic episode and nothing more. But it’s enough, as a small-scale conceptual exercise in transforming the familiar into something alien and disturbing, and as an indicator of her own potential to snag both eye and mind.

LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 559-0166,, through Aug. 22. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

--Leah Ollman

Above: The Conductor (installation view). Photo credit: Courtesy of Kelly Barrie