For the present and future installations at STONESCAPE, the Cottage (just down the road from the Cady Noland Log Cabin) has been turned into a one-room exhibition space, inaugurated this year with an installation by Jamie Isenstein (Acéphal Magical and Saw the Lady, 2007).

Acéphal Magical is a two-channel video: on one screen, a magician dressed in a tuxedo with a top hat (seemingly in place of his head) plays a melody on a saw; on the other screen, musical notes come from water-filled bottles, the result of air blown across their openings by an oscillating fan. The installation’s other work, a performance piece/sculpture titled Saw the Lady, is the classical magician’s box used to create the illusion of a body (Isenstein’s) sawed in half, except that in this box the cut point separates the head (reason?) from the body (intuition?). Acéphal, from the ancient Greek word meaning ‘headless,’ happens to have been the name of Georges Bataille’s secret society, whose symbol was a decapitated man. Legend has it that the society went defunct, not because it could not find a member to sacrifice his head — all were said to volunteer — but because it could not get a member to be the executioner.

In Isenstein’s performance pieces, which are central to her practice and already in her young career well-known, the artist spares no amount of physical effort and personal discomfort to captivate the viewer. In a work exhibited at MoMA’s P.S.1 in 2005, Isenstein wedged herself within a narrow wall space so that the viewer could only see her hand sticking up into an oval frame, moving ever so slightly hour after hour. In a work from 2006, she transformed herself each day all day long into a winged chair, with her legs serving as the chair’s two front legs and her arms as its arms — the rest of her body was tucked into the upholstery. In a show at the Hammer Museum in 2007, Isenstein played the part of an ‘Egress,’ an exotic bird of her own imagination. When not performing, Isenstein typically hangs a ‘Will Return’ sign on these kinds of works.

Isenstein’s mode of conflating animate with inanimate has a fresh look, lively humor and a bit of the absurd. But, deeper within is a deadly serious commentary on our own physicality, absence and presence, and the human impulse to persist . . . to live.

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