It’s a Jungle


“There, After” by Sophie Clements

Paintings are the enochlophobes of the art world. They come with ropes and bulletproof barriers and entourages of bodyguards who yell “Don’t step past that line, sir!” Even in the smallest of galleries, each painting is given enough of a bubble to allow it an exclusive audience with the viewer. What divas.

El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe‘s multimedia exhibition Currents is, by comparison, full of jungle creatures. A chaotic landscape of sonic distortions and flashing lights envelops the viewer immediately upon entrance through a curtained portal. It’s a video game arcade mixed with a haunted house, with the philosophy of Times Square. These works are willing to step on each others’ toes to get some attention.

My study of video art in college started and ended with the founders of the medium. Let me tell you, things have changed since then. Nam June Paik’s fragmented Portapak documentaries or Vito Acconci’s mumbling monologues are faint memories to these artists. The digital age has ushered in a new era of experimentation, and the best pieces here take the medium for a spin in the spirit of Steina and Woody Vasulka or Peter Campus.

British artist Sophie Clements juggles unstable elements in her stunning video triptych “There, After.” The videos build tension in a synchronized dialogue before scattering into distinct crescendos, bringing to mind the methodically random John Cage on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Each time the fire exploded, there were physical ripples through the audience.

“Collective” by Hisao Ihara

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“Transmission” by James Coker

Hisao Ihara and James Coker boil down their medium to its essential elements. Light ripples and splatters across screen and floor like paint. There’s a challenge in Ihara’s “Collective”, which sends Frank Stella’s stripes into the digital realm and then dissolves them to nothing. In “District [BETA]”, Robert Drummond uses his screens as canvases and asks audience members to paint using their blurry auras:

“District [BETA]” by Robert Drummond

These pieces seem to beg the question: what can painting do that video can’t do better?

When you see Currents (or any of the events on the new media festival’s calendar), try to imagine where these works were born. They were created on humming desktops and bare studio floors, from the cockpits of old swivel chairs and the tops of spindly ladders. Discern for yourself what’s lost or gained by releasing singular works into the teeming world of a multimedia exhibition.

Also, don’t feel bad if you need an intermission in the sunshine.

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“Pool” by Fernanda d’Agostino

MUST-SEE: Fernanda d’Agostino’s “Pool” supposedly explores natural patterns in nature and cycles of the human memory, but I think it’s more about forgetting. Two very different screens show a shadowy female form spiraling about in a swimming pool. We get glimpses of her face, but then she flits away again. It’s wistful and eerie, and there’s a lifeguard chair where you can watch the drama.

P.S. Catch me on Twitter!

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