Tuesday, March 30, 2004
SYZYGY The Human Remix Art in Motion's fifth annual international festival of time based media was held for a second consecutive year at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, California. Last year's AIM festival was held at the Armory's satelite warehouse which, although quite spacious, led to an almost chaotic experience of media in all shapes and forms from ellaborate installations to simple computer monitor displays. This year, however, the festival was held at the armory's main building, which is much more intimate. AIM was also more selective and included less participants. While this may be due to the physical space available at the armory, the end result is a highly advanced and sophisticated set of media projects presented with unexpected and welcomed cohesion; something that is quite hard to accomplish when presenting new media in a physical space. This may be because New Media relies on technology which has proven to be most effective everywhere but in the white cube. It is great to see that this year's AIM is quite an exception.
The exhibition offers both invited artists installations as well as open entry projects. The invited artists include Lew Baldwin, Bryan Jackson, Lev Manovich, and Bruce Yonemoto; and the open entry submissions feature works by Mouchette, Stanza, Shauna Frischkorn, Shane Hope, Kit Hung, Eunjung Hwang, Margarete Jahmann and Max Moswtizer, Dennis H. Miller, Rick Mullarky, Sterlin Ruby & Kristen Stoltmann, Jennifer Schmidt, and David Still. (Satellite events are not listed here.)Upon entering the gallery space we find Game Boys by Shauna Frischkorn. This is a series of photographs of young boys staring at a tv monitor supposedly playing video games. A certain tension develops around these C-Prints as the viewer may wonder if the boys are actually posing or simply playing.
Right next to these photographs is the entrance to Lew Baldwin's installation "Duplex", which is actually situated in a separate temporary room. Here a double video projection is set up as a corner piece; both projections present a very short loop of a man running through a tunnel, down a hill, then falling, and turning into a skeleton, then back to a man ready to keep running once again, suddenly freezing and collapsing in an open desserted field, while a woman dressed in white and holding flowers swallows a small moth, (which may actually be a fly). A constant flickering of colors is also part of the montage. Right outside of this room to the right is "Monsters of time" by Eunjung Hwang, which consists of two small monitors presenting playful animations of a pathetic character, which at times is abused by strangers and at others simply lonely, and at others making love with another man (who may be his double--not clear). This wall installation also includes an elaborate illustration made with projected lights of the animated character. At the center of this area we have "The Whippoorwill" by Bryan Jackson, consisting of a giant river cat fish made of resin that is semi transparent. Through its forehead the viewer can see blurred news footage. The giant fish is also accompanied by 5 or 6 river cat fishes (also made of resin) displayed on a shelve to the right, that are almost actual size, all of them with transparencies of frontline news on their foreheads. On the north wall of this gallery space we encounter Manovich's "Soft Cinema: Mission to Earth," which is a digital video projection of a set of files that are compiled to run in real time according to a script that accesses metadata, that then places images on the screen accordingly. While the oral narrative (which is an allegory of the cold war) is always the same, the actual imagery is different each time it replays, as the script will run a different sequence of parameters to choose a new set of files, proposing a different version of the same narrative. Right next to Manovich's piece we encounter a TV monitor on a cart--"Media Cart" by Shane Hope, presenting a self enclosed environment of a set of handcrafted objects that are also presented on the TV performing random activities. On the opposite wall we have another projection called "Nybble-Engine" by Margarete Jahrmann and Max Moswitzer. Unfortunately this project was not working at the time I visited the Armory. As we turn to the back area of the gallery we enter a room specifically showing four pieces by Bruce Yonemoto. Upon entering one encounters on the opposing wall a projection of teenagers walking on the sidewalk in broad daylight, which is actually projected from the other side of the wall. However, the teenager's bodies are cut short by a portable screen. On the left wall, we find a video of a man presented inside a photograph's frame. Here the man confronts the viewer, then a cut, and he reappears covering his mouth with his hand; upon removing it, one discovers that he has no mouth. At the opposite side we have a transparent fiber-glass chair which on its seat presents a monitor with a close-up of a man's asshole fully exposed. The chair is placed on top of four sets of black and white xerox copies of the man's ass. And finally, hovering over the entrance, we find seven tv monitors displayed on a long shelf presenting different loops of a blue sky overseeing a landscape. Leaving Yonemoto's room, we find a long hall way where four videos are screened one at a time, throughout the day. One of them is "couples" by Sterling Ruby and Kirsten Stoltman; where a man takes care of a woman's every need; he picks her up and places her on a chair, then dresses her, then picks her up and takes her to dining table, then to her personal working space where she writes on her laptop while he brings her coffee, and so on. One wonders if this is productive at all as they seem codependent on many levels beyond the physical activities. Walking to the right, we encounter another room painted black where twelve TVs on small pedestals present Marsia Alexander Clark's "Ut Coelum" a music composition carefully orchestrated with different grid patterns of women's faces, who are singing, although at times they appear to be in a state of panic. The images are presented in different color patterns, while the music takes over the room. The twelve monitors present video compositions according to the intensity of the music, changing the patterns starting from the monitors on the outside to the center. And finally as we turn full circle, we find a set of imacs, where all of the net art projects can be experienced. Ironically, there was no internet connection during my visit, but hey! I have the catalog and would always rather experience this section of the exhibit at home.
As it becomes obvious, the projects mainly explore video and film language. However, one thing that the exhibit pulls off that I did not think AIM was able to do in the past is an emphasis on content that goes beyond technical innovation. Story telling is presented as an important aspect--even during a time when database logic may be redefining how to tell a story. This of course is an obvious case here because time based media has always relied on narrative strategies. Manovich's Soft Cinema may be the most obvious example of this, as his work uses files at random to tell the same story. While the projects are interesting for their advancement of video and film language, their forte lies in the fact that the projects in the end are interesting works, regardless of what form is being used to disseminate the idea. However, unlike a more conceptual show, AIM exposes a nice balance between content and form which is rarely found in most media exhibitions.
:: Eduardo Navas