Was There Art Before Video?

Summers come and go, but in Santa Fe, SITE biennial summers corral a lot of activity in a very short time. Santa Fe…sleeps.  And Santa Fe…wakes. As a longtime resident of Santa Fe, one can be excused for feeling sometimes that this small city full-on hibernates between SITE biennials.  Making this summer and last weekends opening events around The Dissolve-panel discussions (to see Rita Nortons portraits of the panelists click here), Lensic performances, gallery and museum openings-the proverbial dawn after the dusk.

Riding on the coattails of the biennials grandiosity, other art venues and artist cooperatives are collaborating, creating solidarity, and building enthusiasm around Santa Fe and in the Railyard District.  El Museo Cultural hosts “Currents 2010,” which features local and regional video artists, complementary to the biennial, no doubt.  NoiseFold, video/sound art collaborative, was presented last Saturday.  Fans of the group agree that the visual presentation has evolved, becoming more sophisticated.  Talking with David Stout and Corey Metcalf, the NoiseFold duo attribute this to bigger budgets and support for their work throughout the Southwest.

Flooding Second Street at the Railyard last Friday night, art lovers convened for the post-party after the Gala Preview at SITE.  Two videos were projected outside Second Street, and a band played.  Madness continued, and everyone had something to say about the biennial.

Off the Railyard were Lensic performances, including the Sunday screening of an abstract video program titled “Abstract Dissolve.”  Curators Sarah Lewis and Daniel Belasco introduced the video show, as the abstract complement to the work in the biennial.  Garden of Earthly Delights by Stan Brakhage (1981), is a fast-paced, video montage of pressed (as if by a book) plant-life.  The aesthetic is that of an archivist almost; the artist seems to be “saving” ephemeral matter with his camera serving as catalogue.  Like the implications of Boschs triptych, I felt the fullness and diversity of life coupled with the pain associated with its destruction.  I would be remiss, if I failed to mention the brilliant Takeshi Muratas Untitled (Pink Dot).  A visual experience to the nth degree-Untitled (Pink Dot) forges new territory in video art (with an emphasis on the word art) by combining abstraction with allusions of representational imagery, which dissolves to reveal a beautiful, split-complementary arrangement made up of Sylvester Stallones deconstructed body and a large hot pink circle flashing in the foreground.  In the terms of curators Lewis and Belasco, this piece is “magical.”

The main event, the biennial, opened with the press conference, curators spoke about the exhibition, using words like “quintessential,” and “magical.”  My expectations for the 2010 biennial grew.  Raising questions about our physical bodies in relation to the advent of technology, the curators call on historical and theatrical references while focusing on the handcraft of video.  Of curse, handmade and video seem to be a contradiction in terms, especially from the viewpoint of the famed philosopher Walter Benjamin regarding his thoughts on aura.  Since 1935 Benjamins theories have certainly been opposed, and “The Dissolve” is no exception.

A few specific works carry a magical if not quintessentially artful quality like Lotte Reinigers The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926).  Hand-cut shadow puppets move staggeringly across brightly colored frames.  The result is charming, as if the aura was not lost from the initial making of the film.  In my wildest imagination great drawings and paintings come alive and move.  The Black Cabinet by Christine Rebet animates at a pleasantly slow pace, and is reminiscent of a dream.  Other favorites of mine include Federico Solmis Douche Bag City, and Martha Colburns Myth Labs.

“The Dissolve” delivers magic in the realm of video, but depends on advanced technology to create the magic.  With all the hype about the new audio system, there are problems.  The sound is often too quiet, or simply doesnt work.  However, despite failures, which arise from techno-dependencies, “The Dissolve” is an amazing, international, quintessential video art biennial.  Referring to this biennial, Lewis says, “what comes from the body [should] dominate the aesthetic.”  Belasco and Lewiss ability to wed the handmade with the realm of technology results in brilliance. The success of “The Dissolve” might be measured by the following statement, which continues to recur in my head in relation to this biennial, was there art before video?

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