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Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008

Subverting Hollywood Tropes

Art Review

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Video and video installation artists occupy the hazy gray zone between cinema, sculpture and performance art. By virtue of the medium's immediacy, accessibility and historically cheap aesthetics, video artists are saddled with the task of clearly defining their work outside the realm of mainstream and even avant-garde cinema.

According to the show's curator, Andrea Inselmann, the video artists of "Stop. Look. Listen." explore three types of relationships: artist to mainstream cinema, sound to image, and the mirror relationship between the viewer and the body as subject. And while these themes are touched upon, the last is more difficult to assess, as none of the works are interactive in the conventional sense, nor do they use video to create total and absorbing environments. With the slick exception of Janet Biggs' Predator and Prey, a visually rigorous two-channel piece presented on eight plasma screens, nearly all the works are single-channel, either projected or shown on a monitor at eye-level. Most are shown with sound with or without headphones, and all are looped, a necessity for exhibiting a moving picture in a museum space.

Long before Johnny Knoxville played the jackass and network television commodified schadenfreude with reality programming, Chris Burden used Super 8 to document the act of taking a bullet at close range. Artists Patty Chang and Mads Lynnerup, two "Stop. Look. Listen." artists whose work documents physical gestures, pick up where performance artists like Burden and Vito Acconci left off. In Chang's Fountain, the artist gazes at her reflection in a mirror, slurping up a layer of water poured on the surface. The camera is stationary, the shot is tight, and as Chang sucks up and swallows the water she is locked in a kiss with her own image. In the two minutes of implied onanism in Untying a Shoe with an Erection, Lynnerup has mastered the one-liner. With a camera on the floor aimed at his shoes, Lynnerup abbreviates the impact of Warhol's 35-minute single-shot Blow Job.Chang's and Lynnerup's pieces are both erotic and humorous, and within a small scale, manage to draw the viewer into a mirror world.

Contrasting with the humor of some of the performance works in "Stop. Look. Listen., " Albanian-born Anri Sala's Naturalmystic(Tomahawk #2) is one of the more unassuming and arresting pieces. On a screen, a lone actor benignly blows into a microphone. The viewer, wearing headphones, hears the actor whistle-softly, once, then twice, and once more. After one or two loops, it becomes clear that an actor is recreating the sound of bombs being dropped in the distance. Sala's piece recreates an autobiographical sense of memory, one that humbly underscores the tragedy of these uncertain times.

The three single-channel pieces with sound lose the sense of urgency inherent in the shorter works. In the case of Jesper Just's Bliss and Heaven, Burt Barr's Roz, and Salla Tykk's Cave Trilogyone asks why these three works demanded such expansive projections. By conceit of too much space, these projected pieces feel distended and diluted. As one's score swells loudly over the wall and invades another's silence, they compete for the viewer's attention, and rather than being "immersed" in each, the over stimulated viewer drowns.

Just and Tykk use mainstream production values and Hollywood tropes in an attempt to subvert or, in Inselmann's words, to "simultaneously quote and deconstruct both cinematic texts and the experience of cinema." However, in the context of these dark rooms, they are locked in a cyclical dialogue with mainstream cinema, and seem doomed to repeat it.

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