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Time Based Media Invitational

Classic themes, 21st-century technology in Artspace's ambitious but frustrating show


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Time Based Media Invitational
Through Nov. 2, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Artspace, 201 E. Davie St., Raleigh
821-2787, www.artspacenc.org

"untitled (temper tantrum)" (2006) by John Richey. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTSPACE

An exhibition in a darkened gallery space can be exhilarating. There is an intimacy as well as a delightful undercurrent of danger in a room full of darkness and well-placed, skillfully presented artwork. Unfortunately, the Time Based Media Invitational currently on view at Artspace in Raleigh is presented in darkness, but not in the good way.

In the parlance of Dr. Phil, the show "has issues." The gallery space feels unorganized and the work is poorly identified (some minimal, focused lighting could have gone a long way toward clarifying the space). Problems with sound present another significant detractor from the show. The blare of an industrial fan overrides much of the sound straining to be heard through sub-par headsets. Further, the day I was there several works suffered from technical malfunctions. One lacked sound, one was shut down completely, and another had been somehow set erroneously to loop at 15-second intervals. And while the show is uneven, every artist deserves to have his or her work presented in the best possible light. Or dark.

Then there's the question of the generality of the invitational itself. The show has no clear sense of mission. Is "time-based" enough of a rubric around which to frame a show? Time-based media has proliferated so broadly in the art world that it may no longer be sufficient to pick a few artists who happen to be working with available technologies and call it a show. On the other hand, an impeccable presentation of the right artists might have felt much less random.

Despite the untethered presentation, themes do begin to present themselves here. Several works explore natural elements while others address the body. Architectural space is explored, directly or indirectly, in several projects, while surprisingly only two—including the least successful piece in the show—deal with language.

Interestingly, one of the most compelling projects is also the only one that verges on narrative. Alan Pearl's black-and-white video "Untitled (song)" tells an epic tale of two popsicle sticks. Set against a grainy black background, the stick figures are the ideal neutral subjects on which to project one's own infinite associations. For this viewer, they served variously as demons, ghosts, angels, souls wandering through purgatory, through hell, through night, as male, female, friends, twins, a couple, siblings, strangers—and always also as just popsicle sticks. Pearl's tenacious investigation of filmic possibilities with the barest of elements fills this gripping (and funny) video with mystery, strangeness and tension. Also on view is Pearl's "Please Stop," a concise video that embodies its own message perfectly.

"Knowledge of the World is Limited to Appearances (Sunset)" is Derek Coté's take on the picture postcard. In this piece, a tiny surveillance camera trains on a small-scale rotating panoramic photograph of a brilliant orange sunset that is projected in real time onto one of the walls of the gallery. The video feed is inflected by the unwitting interference of moving viewers. Problems with the projection diffuse what could have been a stunning wall-sized skyscape into a dim shadow.

Also on the subject of sky is Chris Cassidy's video projection "Globequilting," an oval-shaped projection that structurally resembles a patchwork quilt. Cassidy employs Webcam technology to generate visually rich layers, cross-sections of sky from Webcams positioned at various points along the earth's surface, which update in real time. During the course of the day, shifting portions of the projection drift into darkness while others brighten with sunrise. "Globequilting" brings to mind the world mapping experiments of R. Buckminster Fuller, who might certainly have appreciated Cassidy's luminous re-imagining of life on earth.

"That Which Cannot Be Held" (2006) by Bob Paris - PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTSPACE

Other earth-bound projects include Bob Paris' "That Which Cannot Be Held," a texturally satisfying video on the subject of water, foregrounding the abstract brilliance of light as it percolates above a moving stream. Scott Hazard's "Introjection: Chestatee River, Dahlonega, Georgia" is a wooden sculptural apparatus through which one watches a video loop of a rushing river. While refined in its construction, it is questionable whether the piece as a whole does any more than its component parts might individually.

Two projects in the show deal with fire. Rebekah Tolley and Jon Keenan's "Fire Bowl" is a looped animation sequence (by Tolley) projected onto a ceramic bowl (by Keenan). The result is the primordial image of shifting, glowing orange coals held in the cracked clay of the vessel. Patrick Manning's "Like a House on Fire" is a projection on separate hanging acrylic panels of two model houses as they slowly burn. The reason for the doubling of this project's imagery is unclear, as is the simile of its title. The houses are, in fact, houses (not "like" houses), albeit model ones. It is difficult to get a grip on this piece conceptually, leaving its basic aesthetic elements to be judged in a kind of empty way. (It is of course entirely possible that this writer just didn't get it.)

"sometimes i answer" (2007) by Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum - PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTSPACE

Body language is the focus in Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum's "sometimes I answer." This well-developed digital photographic animation depicts a single impossible act. Framed in close-up with only her upper body and bottom half of her face, Sunstrum alternates between stuffing endless long black braids or dreadlocks into her mouth and pulling the strands out. The stuttering of the jerky digital fragments begins to parse as a kind of grammar in this deconstruction of oral tradition. John Richey's "untitled (temper tantrum)" is a hand-drawn video animation that features solo figures, reminiscent of the line drawings of Ida Applebroog. Each figure appears in full tantrum mode, stamping feet, clenching fists, dropping desperately onto knees. The "I don't care if it's untied" stomping and dragging of one figure with an untied shoe particularly drives home the furious abandon of tantrum-ing. Richey's tantrums all appear to be "performed" by adult figures, underscoring "untitled (temper tantrum)" as a kind of laboratory of human expressive acts.

Other body-centric pieces include Ryan Roa's "Hang In," a coffin-like wooden crate suspended at an angle from the gallery ceiling by massive chains. At one end of the box is a small square opening through which to view a video feed, a claustrophobic tight shot of a man (presumably the artist) trapped in the box. The small-scale viewing screen in contrast with the life-sized box registers a kind of through-the-looking-glass disorientation. David Kasdorf's "Smile (Just Breathe)" features two side-by-side video screens that frame the faces of subjects who were asked to smile continuously, beyond their comfort levels. The video apparently lasts for eight hours, although the image of tortured discomfort brought on by persistent smiling is communicated quickly. It would seem "Smile (Just Breathe)" was conceived by Kasdorf to bring attention to the inherent strain, sometimes extreme, in normative cues of social intercourse. All respect to Andy Warhol's "Screen Tests."

"Coffee & Milk" (2006) by Mary Magsamen and Stephan Hillerbrand. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ARTSPACE

At first, Mary Magsamen and Stephen Hillerbrand's "Coffee & Milk" seems like it might be an homage to Jean-Luc Godard's coffee close-up in "Two or Three Things I Know About Her." However, with its swirled injections of milk into coffee and coffee into milk, it seems more indebted to the experiments of 1960s rock VJs who presented live psychedelic projections of liquids to accompany space jams and LSD trips. Some of the turbulent liquid imagery produced in "Coffee & Milk" offers sheer aesthetic pleasure, while the immersion of body parts—lips, cheeks and hair—invades and interrupts the brown, white and black swirls and reorganizes the project as a form of performance.

Mike Wirth's "The Holzer Machine" is a laptop presentation that produces randomly generated Mad Libs-style text constructions built with subjects (such as "The Conservatives," "Young people," "Bloggers"), verbs (such as "lie about," "sponsor," "lobby for"), and nouns (such as "cars," "literacy," "global warming") to generate somewhat inflammatory, albeit superficial, statements. The Holzer reference is a cheap shot. Jenny Holzer's text work is anything but random, and to invoke her in this trite piece belies some fundamental limitations of Wirth's project.

Christopher LaVoie's video installation "Doors" places the viewer in front of a projection of a series of supernaturally self-opening interior doors and speaks to the mysterious within the domestic architectural construct. However, LaVoie's sound design and visual style also parallel mainstream cinematic clichés à la Steven Spielberg or M. Night Shyamalan. It is not clear if LaVoie's grafted visual style is a form of intentional appropriation or an unconscious reiteration of dominant popular forms, which makes for an uneasy reading of this work.

Several of the pieces in the Time Based Media Invitational are derivative of or echo existing work. The show could have benefited from some discussion of the history of time-based art. This was a missed opportunity for Artspace to enter a broader art world dialogue by acknowledging the long list of time-based practitioners such as Bill Viola, Nam June Paik, Bruce Conner, Cindy Sherman, Pipilotti Rist, Matthew Barney, Kara Walker, Diana Thater, Skip Arnold, Sadie Benning, Michael Britto, Joan Jonas, Tony Oursler, Vito Acconci, Christian Marclay, Gilbert and George, Allen Ruppersberg and John Baldessari.


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