Rhythm and Rhyme

Video and Media

Geoffrey Shea

The strobing of the screen and the beating of a heart may at first seem like rhythms of very different kinds. The cold pulse of the video monitor and the mediating technology behind it seems distant from the warm longings of the poet.

But in the works presented here, combining film, video and digital media, the artists have created striking, sensual statements that combine images, text, rhythm, repetition and music. As much poetry as art, these short pieces gamely embrace large themes: from god to identity, from perception to being. Each is a carefully and meticulously crafted message, written in the language of media and creating an inviting sensation like warm breath on the back of your neck.

Many of the works here exhibit a terse vocabulary, tense structure and tight control: of the medium and of the artists’ subjects. The solitary, personal nature of the medium is well suited for the individual voice. Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay sings beautifully (albeit in multiple harmonies with himself) in Live to Tell and Andrew James Paterson’s funny little monologue in The Headmaster’s Ritual perfectly evokes the twisted tyranny of some other-worldly boarding school.

The conversion of mediated, manufacured rhythms into sensual, human rhythms is explicitly demonstrated in Dorion Berg’s ASCII Alphabet, the squawking I/O message of a modem transforming into the super-value-laden images from a children’s encyclopedia, and in Daniel Cockburn’s Metronome, in which the artist extrapolates from a complex 4-against-3 beat to a polyrhythm that encompasses everything he’s ever seen on the screen, and then some.

The poetry in these sequences, verses and songs is amplified in Barbara Sternberg’s media-work, Illuminations. Like Rimbaud, she examines the values of our time with wit, sophistication and optimism. And, like in many of the other works, she fuses still and moving images, music, text and a carefully contrived sense of order, but in this case adding an element of interactivity.

In the end we are left with the poetic voice of each artist ringing clear, revealing an aspect of themselves that we could see no other way, and allowing us to walk along side them for a little distance, in measured step, even if it is to an unfamiliar beat.

Program Details

Thursday, August 21 to Sunday, September 28, Gallery Hours
Durham Art Gallery
251 George Street East, Durham

You Are in a Maze of Twisty Little Passages, All Different

9 min. (2002)

Daniel Cockburn

A short, surreal sequence is repeated, like a level in a dungeons and dragons computer game which one cannot escape. But differences, some glaring and others almost imperceptible, give the protagonist hope to devise strategies to deal with the twisty little maze-like world he inhabits.


11 min. (2002)

Daniel Cockburn

Daniel Cockburn takes us through one entire day to the beat of a simple, continuous rhythm. Against that beat he measures all the other beats he encounters or can remember, largely imposed by the films he’s seen and by the sense of order that they have thrust upon him. Icons from Jacques Tati to Edward Norton present this seductive order which would lead him inevitably to despair were it not for his own contrived beat: the mark he makes in the world that makes it his own.

The Headmaster’s Ritual

3 min. (2002)

Andrew James Paterson

Andrew James Paterson drolly recounts his experience with various headmasters at a boy’s academy that seems like something out of a 1930s socio-drama like Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour. From sadistic to libertarian, these patriarchs are measured by their approach to teaching Oscar Wilde in drama class, the improper study of Wilde being the root of all evil even today (as seen in the rise of the extreme right in Europe recently). Paterson’s trademark deadpan delivery and his subtle musical score combine to create a slowly mounting tension.

Live to Tell

6 min. (2002)

Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay

Live to Tell portrays the artist captured on a bank lobby’s surveillance camera and multiplied sixteen times. This refracted character performs a carefully choreographed rendition of a popular Madonna song, harmonizing with himself and stepping in and out of sync with calm panache. That he can render this song with a lyrical beauty and perform all of the parts himself is impressive; that he pulls it off set against the sterile backdrop of an pervasive institution should give us all cause to cheer.

ASCII Alphabet

5 min. (1999)

Dorion Berg

Dorion Berg explores the dualistic nature of the digital world in which everything is reduced to I/O, on/off, ones and zeros, yes or no. He represents this dichotomy through apparently contradictory images taken from a children’s encyclopedia. The images portray good/bad, in/out, old/new by way of an outdated and clearly loaded value system. He then uses these human-readable digital ‘bits’ to recreate the machine-readable ASCII alphabet (in which, for example, A is represented as 01000001).

Illuminations: A Book of Letters

CD-ROM (2002)

Barbara Sternberg

Barbara Sternberg’s Illuminations reflects both the genre of engraving and Arthur Rimbaud’s book of poems of that title. Essentially delightful and uplifting, all three depict vast and deep subjects as approachable and fathomable. By creating an alphabetized dictionary of images, films and quotations — under themes such as G stands for God, gooey and good — Sternberg is able to weave between the issues and artists that have impressed her. Presented on CD-ROM, viewers are invited to browse this expansive work, creating their own associations in the shadow of the artist’s.