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I went to see the Whitney Biennial yesterday. The Globe and Mail's Sarah Milroy described the show as "tremulous." Tom Moody will no doubt speak for himself, but he has been heard to characterise it as the "fey, twee Biennial." I was a bit surprised to see so much low-impact, pretty work, and found myself tiring of all things quirky, pale pink or minty green. That said, the show made for a great art afternoon and some stuff, mostly dealing with violence and/or death, really struck me. Here's my list of picks.

Emily Jacir is a Palestinian American with a US passport that allows her to travel where other Palestinians can't go. She uses this power/freedom to fulfill requests such as. "Go to the Israeli post office in Jerusalem and pay my phone bill," and "Go to my mother's grave in Jerusalem on her birthday and place flowers and pray." Some requests are practical, some symoblic, some expressions of love and connection, some are vehicles for vicarious wish fulfillment. The documentation is simple and straightforward and the piece carries its own impact without fuss or fanfare. You can see most of it here.

Sue DeBeer's Hans & Grete is a big, funny/sad 2-channel video installation. The floor is covered with huge funfur pillows for flopping and watching (strewn, when I was there, with saggy, weary teenaged art viewers). The piece has 4 characters, two teenaged boys and two teenaged girls, played by two actors. They are twinned and juxtaposed in various ways, with lots of fairytale type reference, stuffed animals, sex and air guitar. The characters deliver monologues that each have their own heartbraking mixture of violence, idealism, childishness, ego and pain. The website is great, and generously and openly cites DeBeer's primary source material which includes writing by Ulrike Meinhoff and Eric Harris' suicide note. My favourite scene is when the character Kip is in the forest with a little stuffed toy dog. The dogs eyes glow amber and it speaks to him in a smurfy voice. He makes the dog elevate into the trees. The scene is twilit, understated and damn scary.

Jack Goldstein was an important 70s artist working with film and mass media. I'd never heard of him, and according to this useful article by Jim Lewis at Slate it's not a huge surprise.
By 1991 he was broke, angry, depressed, strung out, and one day he simply moved away, out to the California desertódisappeared, really. Almost nobody heard from him; if you came to contemporary art afterward, you may not even have heard of him. And yet an artist like Douglas Gordon, whose giant videos of a ponderously live elephant, shown at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last month, pleased so many people, owes a great deal to Goldstein, as he may or may not know himself.
The piece shown here is film of volcanos and underwater scenes. The colour is extreme and the image breaks down, the highlights burning out into amorphous areas of white, orange or blue. It's a gripping abstraction of images of the elements, that ends with a lunar eclipse, accompanied by an alarming, high-pitched tone, the only sound in the piece. I loved it.

Chloe Piene's Blackmouth was really great; a slow-mo video of a young girl covered in mud (or something) and roaring like a lion or a monster. Prepubescent power/anger/angst.

Barnaby Furnas's bloody violent paintings were unsual enough to really catch my attention. They strike a fine line between cartoonishness and abstraction. Sam Peckinpah in paint (with a bit of real life war and bit of video game graphics resonating in the mix).

Cory Arcangel/BEIGE showed their famous hacked Nintendo clouds, and a great little screen tucked off to the side with Super Mario sleeping to crazy hacked Nintendo music (heard through headphones). I was happy to see this work, after hearing so much about it, and while I like the ephemeral, performance and online presence of Beige more than this installation, I'm nonetheless glad that they were in the show.


- sally mckay 4-10-2004 9:20 am [link] [3 refs] [3 comments]