The Determined Image

Geoffrey Shea

The first device that a video artist can use as they approach us with their pitch for attention, engagement and commitment is the visual image. Sound follows quickly, and then rhythm, but the picture is what defines our relationship from the outset. Later, of course, we might recognize narrative and intertextual references, scriptwriting and poetry, the social and the political, as tools for delivering and possibly rendering the particular realities that are bound up in art making. Each of these facets of a video work has the potential to reflect the image in whole, but we are most reassured by a determined consonance that echoes and reverberates across every reading of the work, necessarily starting with our initial, purely visual reaction.

The video artworks in this selection seem casual and unassuming. The images that appear on the 4:3 section of wall where they are projected are meant to be negotiated with the eyes first. The extrapolation and interpretation that follow are clearly welcome and encouraged, but not strictly proscribed. Although the works range from elaborately crafted to folksy to incidental, they all capture and hold our attention through the strong-willed intentionality of the artists. For none of them flinches when they gaze – they look and they see and we see what they see.

And in so doing, they position video as a visual medium instead of a referential potpourri. It is true that Julio Soto’s triptych nods slightly to feature film’s reliance on the extended, unpopulated pan (play this little game with  yourself: see how many recent Hollywood films open with a pan of a skyline) or to the brief Matta-Clark moment shown here, and Leslie Peters’ studied gaze relies on the rhythms of editing to focus our visual attention on a narrow moment, but taken together, everything we need from these works is right there on the screen in front of us.

While the goal of presenting the work as an object to be perceived in and of itself rattled around the roots of modernism and underscored experimental film from Man Ray to Ernie Gehr, its re-emergence in video – a medium famous for fostering works which are about something – has more to do with creating an authenticity to combat the vaguely ironic, intensely passive speed-of-consumption media. In our perception of the authentic we never for a moment lose sight of the hand of the author.

Video has inhabited a tenuous territory within the art world, most comfortable in those moments when it either shared space with sculpture as installation or moved to the theatre and exchanged bodily fluids with film. But it is still neither fish nor fowl; right from the start it operated with the instincts of Fluxus and in a decidedly counter-culture mode. These current works are reoccupying that position that video art once flourished in. They are ephemeral. They are about the play of light and shadow. They are personal without being autobiographical. They are more suggestive than revealing.

In their calm reliance on the power of the senses these works reanimate the viewer, encouraging an active response to the strong, clear visual statements they are making.



Program Details

August 12 - September 19
Durham Art Gallery
251 George Street East, Durham

Invisible Cities

6 min. (2002) USA

Julio Soto

Imagine a post-apocalyptic, generic urban centre. Imagine interiors covered with vines, water, vegetation, and flies swarming around. Imagine an omnipotent camera, ubiquitous, panning and dollying through urban landscapes of surreal imagery. Abandoned buildings, ruined centres, deserted cities, nature taking over every space around…

A Sign

1 min. (2003) Canada

Collin Zipp

A layering of colour fields and hints of words, these images are too indistinct to be a collage. Instead, they have been woven by the artist into an entirely new fabric.

untitled (Color Bars)

1 min. (2004) Canada

Collin Zipp

For about 60 seconds the artist asks us to consider these soft, shifting vertical patterns, claiming nothing more about them than they are not the title of the work.

seed

4 min. (2002) Canada

Leslie Peters

The rippling seed-grain in this work grows ambiguously somewhere between the domestic crop and the wild weed. Strangely, it is the domestic version that is most foreign to us, growing in rows on family or factory farms, distant from the current reality most of us endure.

basin

4 min. (2002) Canada

Leslie Peters

One image cycles back on itself, intersecting to form new patterns of interference and suggesting evolving themes from this single motif. The artist’s insistence on an abstract, nonverbal progression echoes the emotive qualities of music. As in all of Peters’ works presented here, the natural elements are viewed from too close to be called an environment.

lot

2 min. (2001) Canada

Leslie Peters

Twilight is a few minutes between day and night that confuses our senses and disorients the compass of our reality. The moment portrayed in this work rests on that cusp and whether that moment is threatening or comforting may depend on the viewer’s state of mind.

A Miracle

3 min. (2003) Canada

Daniel Barrow

Using no-tech special effects, Barrow presents a fairy tale of drawings and shadow puppets, creatures, spirits and children. As close to handmade film as video can get.