Meet Magic Moments Artists

How many of the films in the exhibition Magic Moments: The Screen and The Eye—9 Artists 9 Projections have you seen? Do you have any favorites? The exhibition closes this month but before it does, there will be two special opportunities to meet two of the artists and talk to them about their work. The last two films are from artists Luisa Rabbia and Melvin Moti.

This week, join 2007 Artist-in-Residence Luisa Rabbia and Curator of Contemporary Art Pieranna Cavalchini for a discussion about Rabbia's work, Travels with Isabella, in the Special Exhibition Gallery. This video which first premiered at the Museum in 2008, merges two personal journeys–Isabella Gardner's and Rabbia's–and incorporates Gardner's scrapbook from her 1883 travels through China, objects from the Collection, and Rabbia's own work. Explore Luisa Rabbia's creative process through the Travels with Isabella microsite.

Conversations with the artist
This Wednesday, August 8, at 4:30pm
Thursday, August 9, at 7:30pm (Neighborhood Nights)

Join 2010 Artist-in-Residence Melvin Moti and Pieranna Cavalchini for a conversation in the Special Exhibition Gallery, followed by a magazine launch of Collector's Item, a new one-off magazine conceptualized and designed by Moti, with additional contributions by artists Runa Islam and Douglas Ross.

Conversation with the artist and magazine launch
August 15 at 4:15pm
Collector's Item is available in very limited quantities. For more information or to purchase a copy, please write to us at

Learn more about Luisa Rabbia and her film Travels with Isabella, presented August 8-13
Over the course of the past 40 years, numerous artists and writers have engaged with archival materials. Photographs, personal histories, personal libraries, and collections are central to these investigations, as are issues of context, shifts in meaning and interpretation, the dichotomies of record versus fiction, truth versus invention. Some artists have focused on the slippage that occurs between language and image; others have used photography to probe the notion of cultural memory. Luisa Rabbia has chosen to explore archival materials as a metaphysical stage for an artistic metamorphosis.

During her residency at the Museum in 2007–08, Luisa Rabbia researched photographs from the 1870s and '80s, culled from one of Isabella Gardner's Chinese travel scrapbooks. The outcome of Rabbia's investigation was Travels with Isabella, Travel Scrapbooks 1883/2008, a digital video project that takes us not only through objective time and space–following the narrative outline of an American's view of imperial China–but also through an intimate inner space, located somewhere between the rational world and the dream world. This is Rabbia's imaginary geography, in which the transience of human existence and the insubstantiality of all things are charted.

Rabbia creates new stories by interweaving her deep blue drawings of roots and trees throughout Isabella's scrapbook. In the process, Rabbia has turned Isabella Gardner's scrapbook into a fantastical construct, creating an enigmatic landscape by cutting out, reframing, and combining the images with her own drawings, thus adding a new dimension and weaving her own personal story in with Gardner's. Using Photoshop and AfterEffects software, Rabbia has been able to reimagine the sequence of events in Gardner's journey, creating a new topography, inserting visual elements that provoke questions of sense and existence.

There is a distinctly mysterious quality to images and other information that are rescued from oblivion. They seem to stir and come alive: they are of the past but they are speaking in the present. Rabbia brings into focus the anonymous voices of the masses, the confused rumble of everyday life. In her past works, she has demonstrated a connection with people who seem to have been lost to time, drowned in the great sea of history.

Rabbia sees in history a multiplicity of singular existences; for her, the past is made up of a succession of presents. In Travels with Isabella, she places figures of homeless people from the streets of New York into a landscape with two prisoners in cangues in Shanghai in the 1880s. Rabbia enters the existences of strangers and brings to light lives that have been forgotten or stayed invisible–as all personal memories seem to do when they slip the moorings of consciousness.

As she connects Gardner's memory of China to her personal geography, Rabbia moves from one level of reality to another. She glides among ontological categories: archival record, imaginary figment, truth, invention. How do we prevent the traces of human events and actions from being erased by time? The artist has composed a fascinating fictional visual journal–a dreamlike diary of life observed. The viewer enters a memory system in which the pages of Gardner's scrapbook have been shuffled and re-positioned according to a complex curatorial rationale based on emotion, spontaneity, and aesthetic intuition. In this way, Rabbia creates a flow of movement among individual photographs, formulating a composite landscape in which past and present merge and contrast–from the Great Wall of China to the streets of Brooklyn to cattails on the banks of Muddy River on Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace in Boston.

Learn more about Melvin Moti, Collector's Item, and his film, No Show, presented August 15-20
Melvin Moti examines neurological, scientific and historic processes in relation to visual culture. Over the last years he produced several films along with artist books, objects and drawings. Moti's films encourage viewers to activate their minds; to observe less passively, to hunt for clues, to embark on a journey of discovery. Sound and image induce a hypnotic effect and enunciate thoughtful, evocative narratives, generated by beautiful slow-moving images.

Moti believes that collectors such as Isabella Stewart Gardner make collectors out of all of us. He says: we are looking through the eyes of the collector when we follow the very spontaneous yet sensitive connections between all the collected objects. The collector is materialized through the visitor, who becomes another component of the scripted orchestration of the collection.

Moti's one-off magazine, Collector's Item, includes texts, drawings and photography by the three artists, investigates to what extent the Gardner's conceptual approach can be found in other museums. Douglas Ross points to the very dominant presence of the collector and complex instructions for displaying the collection, as characteristics shared by the Gardner Museum and the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. The unusual transformation from a private collection to a public museum is the central focus of Runa Islam's project on the Sir John Soane Museum in London.

Runa Islam lives and works in London, while Douglas Ross lives and works in New York City, and Melvin Moti lives and works in Rotterdam and Berlin. Moti was an artist-in-residence at the Gardner in 2010 and his film No Show (2004) is on view as part of the exhibition Magic Moments: The Screen and The Eye.

Images: at top, Luisa Rabbia: Travels With Isabella, Travel Scrapbooks 1883/2008, video still; in text, courtesy of Melvin Moti, 2012.

This project is made possible in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.