Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The bad and maybe better

I really expected to like Doug Aiken’s video installation at 303 Gallery because of how it was described: animals let loose in hotel rooms. I was hoping for something like Douglas Gordan’s elephant video Play Dead (2003) (see clip here), which is elegant, a simple but poignant metaphor about the fine line between tame and wild. But I hated it.

There are three screens mounted like billboards for no other reason that I can think of other than it looks video installation-y. Then every shot pretends to be meaningful instead of actually being so. So, you have a lot of slow motion, a lot of animal eyeballs or close-ups of hair, a lot of pregnant pauses, and pseudo-symbolic props (a jigsaw puzzle on a bed, for example). What’s missing is any sense of the unknown, any sense that what you are seeing was not entirely controlled or planned. Even when the buffalo (I think it was a buffalo) butts the bed. We need a little real surprise, a little unknown, a little tension, something like when Joseph Beuys spent three days in a room with a coyote in 1974.

That show is on until November 8, if you must.

Things get a little better – and a little weirder – over at I-20, where Ronnie Bass has a few videos and related objects on view (through Saturday). If I weren’t in a gallery, I might have thought this was cable access TV, some spiritually inflected, low-grade performance for an odd-ball audience. But, I was in a gallery, so I convinced myself there was something more to it. I think there may be, but I’m not sure what yet. Something like James Lee Byars: ordinary but hypnotic. I'm not looking for a quick fix idea here.

I remember seeing another of Bass’s unusual performances at PS1 in the 2005 Greater New York show. The fact that that was three years ago substantiates my hunch that he may not be a passing fad, and that he may be worth keeping an eye on. But the jury is still out.

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