I want to love video art because, like everyone these days, I grew up inundated with the moving image. That sweet screen glow is mother’s milk. But the irony inherent to video art is that it’s often tedious to watch, because as a medium it’s become so conceptually tethered to the idea of time and duration. It requires much. It’s interactive, but usually in an exasperating way.
When I interviewed a few collectors for City Arts recently, Jon Kvistad was especially fascinating because video art is his thing. Kvistad’s home is lacquered in screens. He packs a micro-projector in his suitcase when he travels so he can cover his hotel room walls with art while he reads a book or falls asleep. Who does that? At least, who in Seattle?
When it comes to buying video art, most people are in a fog—for good reason. How is video editioned? How is it hung? How is it valued? So much easier to buy a watercolor.
A spin around the Affordable Art Fair this past weekend proved this point by a conspicuous absence of work on projector or screen. Most vendors offered amuse-bouches of safe, painterly, decorative stuff. On the other hand, some of my favorite work on view during First Thursday was video.
One of those is Switzerland-based artist Peter Aerschmann’s Checkpoint, part of the Suitcase exhibit at SOIL Gallery. In the video, a black-and-white checkered floor rendered in 3-D very slowly rotates, as though the world were a big, spinning checkerboard on the back of a cosmic turtle. Computer-generated figures move in a trance, fulfilling their repetitive, boring/mesmerizing functions: a woman in a thick winter coat steadily pedals on a stationary bike; a man in an orange coat is locked in a perpetual handstand; another marches atop a revolving barber-pole advertisement while security cameras look on.
At Gallery 4Culture, Jon Feodorov’s disquieting, visionary paintings of angels, snakes and severed heads in landscapes ruined by environmental disaster are displayed alongside a video called Emergence #8. In it, a beauty queen in black repeatedly bursts out of a tiered cake. She’s wearing a gas mask. A cloud of black balloons swirls up around her. Similar images of tiara’ed and gas-masked girls are juxtaposed to footage from the BP oil spill, Fukushima, the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. and on and on.
“I have a rule to never eat in public, at public events,” my artist friend says two days later while we’re drinking a bottle of bottom-shelf red wine in my apartment. He is impeccably bohemian. But eating in public is exactly what we were headed to do at Slideluck Potshow, an exhibition/potluck born in 2000 when photographer Casey Kelbaugh invited friends over to his Seattle backyard to screen art and videos. Since then, it’s blown up all over the world. Photographer David Wentworth (who just launched Flutter Studios downtown with Will Miller) curates the Seattle Slidelucks. Last year, the Seattle instalment was held at a big warehouse near the Fremont Bridge. This year it was hosted at AXIS, the space that used to be Elliott Bay Bookstore in Pioneer Square.
Slideluck was packed with a demographic-defying gamut of people: young, old, well-heeled, bohemian, usual art-going suspects as well as strangers. The exposed brick walls radiated romantically under low lights. By the time I arrived, the potluck leftovers comprised a motley selection of incomprehensible vegan dips. After I assembled a small serving, I remembered the artist’s proscription of public food consumption. I set my plate aside as live music floated down from an overhead loft to accompany projected work by 27 artists, including Joe Rudko, Erin Frost, Megumi Arai (photo above) and a wild mix of others.
Among those that shone brightly over diamond-shaped Chinet plates cradling dips, Lauren Max’s medium-format portraits of lost boys and girls and free birds captured the energy of wasted youth who turn places time forgot into private playgrounds. “On the Shores of Aurora” paid homage to the large-scale detritus of Aurora’s graffitied motel pools and abandoned K-Marts, saddling the sad canons of Washelli Cemetery with goth chicks in black velvet and 6″ platforms.
KeseyPollock’s videos for “I made you. I loved you. I destroyed you,” recently the subject of a show mounted in the sprawling Belltown Collective space, were screened again at Slideluck. Steph Kese and Erin Pollock are some of the hardest working artists in Seattle, making hand-cast and painted wax replicas of people that could belong at Madame Tussauds. Once completed, these figures are blasted with heat, dissolving all the hard work into rainbow puddles. They play back the footage sped up in reverse and it looks like people materialize, uncannily, from a gooey Skittles soup.
Death is whispered (perhaps with a nod to 19th-century death masks, a vague pining for resurrection, even the saccharine colorfulness of plastic flowers planted in headstones), but the videos aren’t half as impressive as the amount of actual material and effort KeseyPollock put into their making. A touch too much sincerity, prettiness and indulgence in mucking around with material makes the project (for which they successfully raised over 45K on Kickstarter) seem a little like a runaway train.
Rodrigo Valenzuela (in collaboration with Nat Evans) screened footage recently filmed on a cross-continental train ride. Part mesmerizing, part sunlight-drenched doldrums, his camera sped lazily along snaking tracks, sneaking an occasional gaze at passengers lost in thought, their images reflected on windowpanes. What makes the video most interesting is the reason it exists: the fact that Valenzuela’s traveling companion on the trip had a total fear of flying. For a brief moment in the eight-minute video, you see her. The too-bright sun beats down on larger-than-life, vignetted cheeks and red lips. It flickers for a minute, then dissolves into the scenery, which drones on and on, for miles.
Slideluck image courtesy of Bruce Clayton Tom/Slideluck.