Art Seen: Chicago

EXPO VIDEO // RECAP

by Patrick G. Putze

Often, the true meaning of presented media does not necessarily sink in right away. This was the case with the video installation at EXPO this past September, curated by Dean Otto, Program Manager for the Film & Video Department at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The curated selection of moving images definitely had a tone – and stepping back after a few weeks, the following pieces represent much of what Otto attempted with his programming.

Looping on Screen 3 was Llano, by Jesper Just. The video opens with a slow pan across an arid landscape of brush, rocks, and dirt – then following old rusted cans, and burnt branches. A selective rainstorm taunts these cans and a few ruinous structures. As the film makes clear, it only rains on what man has left behind, as if nature is trying to remove these last traces of humanity. Mother Nature is struggling to finish the task at hand – lying to waste what little remains of an abandoned socialist utopian commune. Through interspersed cuts of film, we get glimpses of a still working underground plumbing mechanism that may or may not be the culprit brining the incessant downpour. The pipes go about their job but also might burst or crumble at any given moment.

EXPO VIDEO, 2013.

Next, the camera pans to large woman in a tie-dye shirt trying to shore up the architectural remains, though she must first come to understand her effort as ultimately futile – a sense gathered from the atmosphere of film. The camera pans left to right across the rained on wall. The woman rearranges rocks on top of one portion, looking quite weary from her efforts. She has built scaffolding braces in several places – she battles the storm that only falls on her and what is left of the building. We get the sense that the rain itself knows she is trying to hold on to something – perhaps only fractured memories. Just cuts to water running off through the desert brush and ultimately then back to the underground pipes as they churn out the distraction, giving a final impression that the. The video ends, and we only semi-comprehend that the process will be continuous in nature – the looping of the film substantiates this idea of perpetuity. Just suggests some possible questions – perhaps what we build will only be left for future archeologists, an apocalyptic read, or instead preserving that which we choose to build up for ourselves?

Llano, 2012, Blu-ray video / Single channel blu-ray video, 07:17 min.

Screen One features a few videos that also correlate directly to Llano, reinforcing themes of consumption and a lack of sustainability in contemporary culture. Federico Solmi’s Song of Tyranny: Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on the Earth is the beginning and end of history on planet Earth wrapped tightly into six minutes. Solmi’s saturated, half hand-drawn, half 3D graphics, all cool video cranks up with nature in harmony and the Garden of Eden. By way of computerized male voice, the artist explains the creation of mankind and how we’ve become a destructive force. Solmi’s video functions like a first-person-shooter computer game – we are thrust into the rambunctious Holy Chinese Parliament in celebration, as a fictitious dictator explains the need to eliminate the Great Evil that is the United States of America. A colorful thrum of scribbled-down, zombie-esque crowds cheer as the Ultimate Tyrant explains the invasion of America. The Tyrant dances across the stage as music plays on. Chinese helicopters and tanks invade New York and a Godzilla-like version of the dictator stomps through Times Square. In futility, a single man with rocket launcher shoots the monstrous entity over and over again.

As the narrative progresses, the Chinese win and “teach America a lesson” through a pseudo-Pink Floyd factory scene where citizens are dismantled on conveyor belts, and new Chinese-American money stacks up incessantly. The leftover remnants of people end up in the machine mouth of a tyrant robotic chopper that devours them all. The machine continues to pump endless streams of money out into the world. Finally, the male computer voice explains that after conquering America, the world becomes an “uninhabitable wasteland” with “life no longer possible for the human race and on the verge of extinction.” A rocket blasts off from a scorched Earth just before it explodes. “Finally, the planet Earth was over and for a brief moment, a beautiful silence was heard throughout the galaxy.” The End.

EXPO VIDEO, 2013.

In Jan Tichy’s work Collection, the entire catalog from the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) flashes before our eyes. In literal fashion, Tichy’s video sequences the entire collection of almost 11,000 works in rapid-fire sequence from the lightest in the collection (Harry Callahan) to the darkest (Roy DeCarava). Certainly, some of these images may become imprinted on the viewer, despite the fact that other than the light-to-dark arrangement, nothing else makes sense. The piece directly references Ansel Adams’s Zone System of photographic capture on film, and printing techniques utilizing ten steps of tonal gradation. It seems what Otto is really getting at here, by way of Tichy, is that we have the urge to collect and organize data – we will always be collecting something.

While the whole program is not about a lust for things, capital culture, and the end of the world –this seems to be the overarching theme. A few (and much shorter) examples back this up though, such as Gustavo Artigas’s Vote for Demolition or Columbia College alumnus Ahmed Hamad’s The Home of the Dead. Some of the other videos tread a little lighter on matters. Lynne Marsh’s Platerwald offers up some relaxation – traveling through a former German amusement park, the film shows us the calmer side of things left behind. Zackary Drucker’s At least you know you exist is a poignant statement about her artistic collaborations and offers insight into the commonality that exists between herself and a drag-queen – the two on opposite ends of the age spectrum, yet in tune with each other completely. Cao Fei’s shadow puppet video delivers some humorous anecdotes but also serves a thoughtful lesson on the capabilities of man’s intentions.

Perhaps the idea behind Otto’s program is that whatever we do in this world, nature is always there taking care of business on its end. The message buried in all of these films tells us what we should already know: everyone is afforded limited time on this Earth and naturally ‘collects’ his or her own experiences. It is a spectrum of experience as full as Tichy’s Collection and ultimately, will have flashed by in less than a blink of the eye.



Patrick G. Putze is a Chicago-based artist and contributor for THE SEEN. He also currently works as the Web Developer and Multimedia Coordinator at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago.

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