Posts Tagged ‘Laura Stewart’

Wisconsin on video

June 1, 2010

By now I’m sure that most Madisonian aesthetes and local lovers of art in all its various mediums have visited the Wisconsin Triennial, which will run at the MMoCA through August 15; for those who haven’t, I’m pleased to report that the exhibit is well-worth an open-minded perusal.

While the exhibit features many paintings, sculptures and photographs that are of great interest—I was particularly drawn to Richard Knight’s borderline-infantile compositions of abstract and figurative elements that seem like near-definitive statements on the ADHD tendencies of contemporary consciousness, as well as Curtis Whaley’s at once humorous and existentially morbid schematics—the works that most attracted me were the video installations by Erik Gunneson, Kitty Huffman, Laura Stewart, Toby Kaufmann-Buhler and Chele Isaac.

Gunneson’s “Old Hickory Lane” is an assemblage consisting of a wheeled apparatus made up of dollies, tripods and six monitors screening slow, Dreyeresque tracking shots filmed in a recreation of his childhood home that he constructed in a studio in UW-Madison’s own Vilas Hall. This work requires its spectator to circle around it several times, engaging with each individual image on its own while also recognizing the overall form of the apparatus to which the images are conjoined. “Old Hickory Lane” bares the device in a totally unique way; its sheer manufacturedness  implies a poignant artificiality in Gunneson’s nostalgic efforts to excavate the memories of a bygone (and somewhat idealized) period of his own life.

Kitty Huffman’s “Self-Portrait” is my favorite of the installations on display. The work is a five-minute static long shot of a nude woman (Huffman herself) lying on her side with her back to the camera in a desolate, snowy winter setting. The human figure remains utterly still in the left middle-ground of the widescreen composition; behind it a small pack of deer wander in single-file along a path that slices the composition in half horizontally. The deer sense some sort of menacing presence in the woods and flee. The passivity of the nude woman while threatened by unseen danger makes this exercise in pictorial and performative minimalism all the more unsettling.

Chele Isaac’s “There Is No Fixing the Drift” is probably more interesting as a work of assemblage than as a video installation per se. The video centerpiece is a slightly monotonous sequence of images and sounds of the sea foaming and rolling in waves of varying sizes. The room in which the video is projected also features a mannequin clad in a nineteenth-century dress and an aquarium whose bottom is a screen presenting images similar to those being projected on the wall. The work is meant to evoke contemplation through its meditative qualities, but I found it much more engaging to skip back and forth between the installation’s objects (the mannequin, the aquarium, the two screens), focusing on the tensions formed by the juxtaposition of its constituent elements rather than on the calming flux present in its images and sounds of water.

Laura Stewart’s three videos are the most conventional of any that appear in the Triennial, in that her subjects and themes are well-established territory for avant-garde cinema (indeed, the title of one of the works, “Come Back Scorpio Rising,” is a reference to the canonical Kenneth Anger short): the lives of the derelict, of the marginalized, of the desperate, of modern-day nomads who have never come to know the concept of home. The lo-fi videos were short enough not to give me the sense that they blaze beaten trails, yet I can’t help but think that they feel a bit like old news rather than like something old imbued with new energy.

Lastly, Toby Kaufmann-Buhler’s “The Same But Different (Everything Becomes Round)”, like “Old Hickory Lane,” evokes nostalgic feelings through its slice-of-life imagery and the general wonderment it finds in the quotidian. However, it is also the most formalistic of the Triennial’s installations, presenting its images and sounds, themselves thoroughly fragmentary, through a montage that becomes something of an audiovisual game, recalling the infectious patterning of Hollis Frampton’s “Zorns Lemma” (1970).

Kaufmann-Buhler dances from image to image to the beat of dissonant, abrupt noises; a shot of dripping water serves as the master image, which is in turn interrupted by glimpses of everyday life’s more picturesque phenomena, often for only a split-second. The staccato structure of “The Same But Different” stands in stark contrast with the long takes of Huffman’s “Self-Portrait” and “Old Hickory Lane,” while the disorienting character of its image-sound interplay forms a striking antinomy with the sense of serenity engendered by “There Is No Fixing the Drift,” despite that work’s inescapable if latent heterogeneity.

I neglected to check Bruce Charlesworth’s “Love Disorder” out, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it soon enough. The Triennial contains a decent amount of proof that Wisconsin-based artists are producing legitimately interesting work in what is arguably art’s most cutting-edge medium.

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