Monday July 18, 2005

Irreducible

Oh geez, isn’t yet another video show just about the last thing Miami needs? MAM has one up right now (recently reviewed), MoCA had one within the past year, and the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood had one about a year and a half ago. With all this exposure, another video show at an upstart museum needs to do a lot to justify its existence. Let’s forgo the suspense, and say that Irreducible, Contemporary Short Form Video at Miami Arts Central does so very much. Lavish, beautiful, and deep, Irreducible is the sort of show that just might win over some staunch anti-conceptualists.

Whether by magic, craftiness, or sheer force of cash, MAC has the curatorial strength to get world-class work in apparently any genre they choose, and while this exhibition is less star-studded then their previous (The Last Picture Show: Artists Using Photography), it is no less dazzling. Their ability to get the good stuff is matched by the money to show it right: the work is displayed variously on over 40 different monitors, projections, and flat-screens, with sound variously provided by loudspeakers, headphones, and parabolic speakers. Four pieces have had special sound-insulated darkened rooms build for them. Classy.

One of the most stunning pieces in the show is also one of the last the visitor encounters. Eva Koch’s Approach features a voice-over reading a passage from Dante’s Comedy while fourteen people perform the text in sign language. Arranged in a tight group in the middle of a circular plaza, the signers, dressed in white, gray, and black, function as a group of synchronized dancers, an effect accentuated by the intricate camera-work. The sound of their hands working can be heard, mixed with the single voice to sublime effect. The visual and aural effect is strong enough that it is not overpowered by the beauty of the words, but rather engages with them to produce a third layer of poetry, which is neither visual nor verbal.

Right next door, The Game of Tag has a group of naked people of varying ages playing tag in a cave-like room. It’s primal and frightening at first glance, but one comes to realize that they’re having uninhibited fun—something to envy.

A couple of the works feature a single inspired act, sometimes verging on prank. For example, in Ptáci (Birds), Czech artist Jesper Alvaer opens a bag of popcorn in front of a video recorder placed on the ground. The resulting flurry of pigeons, just over a minute long, is so intense that the video ends with lens is pointing in a different direction then at the beginning.

The idea of a prank is taken to the Nth degree in John Wood and Paul Harrison’s Hundredweight. Six monitors each display the same room from overhead. The room has grey walls and a white floor, forming a static rectangle on each screen. A man in the room performs various prop-assisted activities, each of which transforms the apperance of the room for a brief period. In one sequence, the room begins with black plastic pipes standing on end, pointing up towards the camera. The man knocks one of them over, which in turn knocks over the rest of them; they come to rest in an geometric pattern of crossing black lines on the floor of the room. In another sequence, a pair of paint sprayers are turned on a chair, casting paint “shadows” on the floor behind. Other props include lighting, fabric and plastic sheets, balls, and rubber bands, but what impresses most about the piece is its visual relationship to painting, not just its inventiveness.

Pictured with this article is Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s Returning a Sound, in which a young man rides through a landscape on a moped with a trumpet attached to the muffler, improbably resulting in a strange, endless melody. No interpretation of this piece’s odd power feels satisfactory: it is not a joke, a narrative, or an experiment. There is no glee, celebration, or development. There is only the wordless fascination of looking.

To be sure, not everything in this exhibition is successful. A few pieces, such as Yael Bartana’s Kings of the Hill, seem a better it for documentary treatment then an artistic one, while Aernout Mik’s video of jumping people is boring to little effect.

In a show with so much excellent work, a few weak pieces can be overlooked. But when it comes to presenting work, the MAC’s reach sometimes exceeds its grasp (ironically, their failings often fall in the realm of technology). On the day we visited the exhibition, two pieces were down for technical reasons. If that can be forgiven, the following cannot: in the interest of slickness, a number of pieces in the show employ wireless headphones, which work much less often then not. During the opening reception, we experienced all sorts of interference on these sets. But on returning on a regular day, the problems were multiplied by sets with dead batteries, incorrectly set frequencies, and generally poor-to-nonexistent reception. At least one piece had had it’s wireless headphones replaced with (much less impressive) wired ones; the same needs to happen to the rest of the pieces in the show (perhaps the biggest name in the show, Gillian Wearing, had her piece rendered moot by malfunctioning wireless audio).

Sadly, these failings are consistent with the MAC’s short record of multimedia presentations. During the previously mentioned Last Picture Show, demigod Martha Rosler came to speak about her work. At a podium set up in the middle of the audience of over fifty, Rosler had to choose witch half of the group would hear any given sentence of hers, because the MAC apparently could find no PA for her to use! To add injury to insult, the attendees got to see Rosler’s slides, but not the new work she had on her iBook, because apparently the MAC doesn’t own a computer video cable. So please, guys, a little less razzle-dazzle in the future, and a little more functionality. But otherwise, we can hardly wait to see what the MAC has in store for us in the future.

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  1. Henry    Mon Jul 18, 01:01 PM #  

    “The Game of Tag” was filmed in a former Nazi gas chamber. The film maker has said, “huge yellowish navy-blue bruises made by the gas were still visible on the walls.” (By “gas” he means Zyklon B.)

  2. alesh    Mon Jul 18, 10:05 PM #  

    some interesting conversation about this post here

  3. Kathleen    Wed Jul 20, 11:45 AM #  

    I think that the MAC show is really good. The prank-ish videos you talk about are fabulous, and seem to be very much informed by painting. I’m also totally impressed by MAC for stepping up with all thier programs (film and music series, residency, art camp). My early and cynical expectations of the institution are happily being proven wrong!