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Thursday September 20, 2012

Optic Nerve 14 at MoCA

Joshua Hagler, The Evangelists

Music videos have given us thirty years of experimental short-form visual imagery. Films have given us a century of innovative narrarative approaches, with non-linear plotlines, surreal imagery, and a host of other effects. And television has spent almost as long feeding us easily digestible morsels of instant visual gratification. Video art has got it tough — it occupies the same screens as these other media, but it must set itself apart, must elevate itself from all of them. And it must do it while occupying the same screens, and in almost all cases with a fraction of the budget. More recently video art has had to contend with YouTube, which allows literally any jerk with a laptop to experiment with time-based visual imagery. Every piece of video art must answer the question before the discussion of its quality even begins: Why is this not a feature film? Why is this not a music video? Why is this not a television program? Why is this not YouTube piffle?

It’s a wonder how often it succeeds. The genre has produced a stream of works that re-imagine what a moving image can mean, and how it can interact with physical space. There is cross pollination between video art and the traditional video forms, but semantically video art has managed to maintain the same distinction between itself and “everything else” that is essential to all contemporary art.

Optic Nerve 14 contained, among much else: Cara Despain’s Timbre, a surreal stop-motion piece set inside a cardboard box and involving the clay heads of two creatures; Bill Fontana’s Acoustical Visions of the Golden Gate Bridge, a three-minute still-cam shot of the underside of the bridge, with car and boat horn sounds; an excerpt from Joshua Hagler’s stunning The Evangelists, in which four computer-enhanced disembodied heads discuss a mysterious religious event (arson on their apartment building, as it turns out); Yuliya Lanina’s Dodo Valse, a beautifully painted, folkloric-themed animation; Liz Rodda’s Cut, in which CG women’s muscles grow as far as the software slider will allow them to grow; Juan Carlos Saldivar’s Shift, a mini-movie with live-actors covered with paper-mache masks; Carmen Tiffany’s The Accident, a grotesque jumble of homemeade pupets in absurdist conversation and other video rift-raft; Dodrigo Valenzuela’s Diamond Box, black and white interviews of, perhaps, Mexican immigrants, each filmed so that you hear their voice as you see their unmoving face; Doug Garth Williams’ Back and Forth, a bit of clever green-screen trickery; and two YouTube style supercuts: one of all the bits of a Bill Cosby where he’s not talking, one of “The End” title cards from the end of movies.

This is the sort of variety that every edition of Optic Nerve brings. And yet the event feels remarkably consistent from year to year. The overall quality of the 15 or so videos, culled from hundreds of submissions, is always remarkable. Each is 5 minutes or less, so the viewer doesn’t get bogged down. And screening video art this way, rather than encountered on a small monitor in a gallery, makes for a compelling experience. MoCA’s no-thrills auditorium is the wrong shape for video screenings, and the production values are not exactly top notch. (This year: audio problems, and a visible computer pointer hitting the play and pause buttons and adjusting volume during the screening.) But the experience is enough like a movie theater to force the viewer’s attention the way a cinematic film does, despite the disparity of the work.

Bonnie Clearwater was shrewd to include the warped perspective of Carlos Rigau on the selection panel for this year. The man is absurdly smart about video art, and I pictured him fighting for inclusion of pieces like The Evangelists and Cut.

For years, Optic Nerve was a fleeting and elusive event: one screening, with an interested audience far beyond its capacity. But it’s improved: the program will be screened again at the De La Cruz space on October 13th. (It will also travel to the Big Screen Plaza in New York City.) Maybe next year MoCA will do a week-long run, which would allow for reviews like this to reach audiences and give them time to react, and would allow people to see it at their leisure, at the expense of some of the special-occasion-ness. We can also hope that MoCA will see fit to add text from the program to the event’s web page for archival purposes.

But mostly we should be grateful that Optic Nerve exists. Since it’s open to submission by anyone, it casts a wide net. It’s exposed several artists who have gone on to great things. And it’s helped raise awareness of video as art, and make the argument for its ongoing vitality (not as foregone conclusion as we might like to think: video was largely diminished in presence at last year’s Art Basel).


Monday March 24, 2008

A nice article in the New York Times on Bonnie Clearwater and MoCA, which is about to build that big new building. (via)


Thursday February 7, 2008

The Knight Foundation has announced major grants to three local arts organizations: $10 million to the Miami Art Museum, $5 million to MoCA, and $5 to the New World Symphony. Other organizations and individual artists can apply for a chunk of another $20 million available for smaller grants, which must however be matched by funding from other sources. Given this, and given the recent $30 million Arsch gift and the $10 million recently given to the Harn museum in Gainesville, the question becomes: who’s going to be the next to step up with an 8-figure donation?


Thursday September 20, 2007

Karen Kilimnik at MoCA

Before you go any further, grab a phone and call 786.735.1945. Ignore the nice recording, and punch in 1-1-#, and you’ll hear what at least one person thought of this piece. I love this because it makes the painting immediate, and it dispels the notion that lay-people often have of contemporary art, which is that you either “get it” or you don’t. (If you’re feeling adventurous, and you haven’t seen the show yet, try also 1-#, curator Ingrid Schaffner’s introduction to the show’s opening gambit, the “red room” installation.)

Karen Kilimnik’s show at MoCA demands unhurried exploration. Strains of meaning and beauty undulate around her paintings, installations, drawings, photos, sculptures, and videos, and they reveal themselves to the patient viewer. Kilimnik is known for her “scatter art” installations, but honestly, those were some of the less interesting pieces in the show. Picture a couple of piles of cartoonishly large yellow and blue pills, a mirror with a white powder, a razor blade, and a syringe. Or picture the most predictable tableau possible based on the Boomtown Rat’s I Don’t Like Mondays (chicken wire, gun-range targets, and a recording of the aforementioned tune on headphones).

Karen Kilimnik It’s all uphill from there, though. Kilimnik’s paintings are genuinely great — she has a feel for gesture, for color, for context, and especially for narrative. They also tell a story. There’s the story of the fenced Stonehenge (above), and there’s the red room installation that front-loads the show with a bombastic show of pure power. A free-standing little room in a large and otherwise-empty gallery contains a circular couch, red wallpaper, and 50 paintings, hung salon-style on all the walls. There is appropriation and anachronism in these paintings (and at least one is left intentionally incomplete), but what drives them is her technique — bold and loose, but extremely lucid. I suspect they would be judged excellent by any painting snob, yet they work extremely well subsumed into this rather playful larger project.

kilimnik, drawing The heart of the exhibition, however, are Kilimnik’s drawings. Employing a single-panel cartoon strategy without any of that format’s smugness or ease, they showcase her love/hate relationship with drawing, and play around with meaning, often leaving it just out of reach. Even after including text (both in the drawing and in the title) and overlapping symbolic references, we are usually left with an intriguing juxtaposition, not an overt statement. They make no attempt to delight the eye the way the paintings do, and often include elements drawn with deliberate clumsiness, stray marks, and a general approach to the surface that recalls the Basquiat school

There is a real magic to most of the pieces in the show. They are beautiful to behold, but their allure goes beyond their visual draw. They are loaded with meaning that walks just the right line of ambiguity — always hinting at a larger truth, but never allowing that truth to be captured and contained (clear-cut meaning is the short road to irrelevance in art).

One installation piece in the show consists of a splatter of red paint low down on a wall, accompanied by four fingerprint-like marks and a hand-drawn “S” in the same paint, all accompanied by a rectangle of pink synthetic fur on the ground and odd playing-card symbols attached to the wall. A nearby (but separate) piece consists of a silk sheet among straw with a black candle and more playing card symbols. What are we to make of this? Did a once-rich person, reduced by some sinister illness (one of the titles makes reference to smallpox), crawl from one space to the other to die, first issuing a vague message to the future? Again, no literal explanation will account for every element, and so the piece(s) play around with meaning without dashing towards it.

The show is rounded out with a couple of large installations, including a large room filled with aquatic objects which is somewhat less satisfying then the rest of the show. The back room collects several pieces that are again quite different from the rest of Kilimnik’s work. A dark photograph of a solitary figure, accompanied by two glittered twigs (arranged somewhat like antlers around the framed print) is especially evocative. Possibly the least interesting element in the show are the five video pieces, which seem to be mostly based on appropriated video. Haphazardly spliced together, they seem like transcriptions of someone experimenting with a collection of tapes and a television remote control, and with the exception of one that features footage from a fashion documentary (which is interesting more for the source material then the treatment), they leave one wondering whether the “meaning” is worth perusing.

The exhibition as a whole is more powerful then the sum of its parts because, while the techniques and media are all over the place, there is a profound and mysterious sensibility that pervades almost every piece in it. It isn’t anything as neatly tied up as “feminism” (though certainly feminist concerns are raised more then once), but rather an approach to the world which is way too subtle to be contrived, but way too distinct and present to be missed.


Thursday April 5, 2007

MoCA will be trippling the size of its building by 2010. The article is worth a read, and reveals that MoCA is largely financed by the city of North Miami. (via TnfH)


Sunday December 10, 2006

MoCA has an idiotic no-pen rule. (via SotP/r)