Elizabeth King is having her largest solo show to date in one of MASS MoCA’s biggest spaces and it happens to focus on profoundly small things. In Radical Small, intricate, half-scale mannequin-like sculptures reappear in stop-motion videos, making quiet gestures and movements — blinking eyes, tilting heads, and curling fingers.
King takes inspiration from the long history of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects — including clockwork automata, puppetry, and mannequins — but she chooses to focus on their form rather than their function. The mannequins are all unclothed (save one, which wears an oddly distracting black T-shirt), the puppets take part in no live performances, and the clockwork automata’s movements are so subtle that you feel like you imagined them.
Walking up the stairs into the dark, vast gallery space, the first work that comes into view, “Idea for a Mechanical Eye” (1988–90), is a life-size, disembodied eyeball, complete with eyelids and held in place by a brass stand — making it look like a prop from a silent-era horror film. Behind it, a large projection of this same eyeball blinking slowly gives off the feeling that the sculpture may, in fact, blink of its own accord at any moment.