By Patrick Collier
Every year about this time, our neighbor, Steve, drops us an email to complain about the frogs on our small pond.
“They keep me awake,” he writes, and because we don’t know Steve very well (except to think of him as a pretty pleasant fellow), we take this annual complaint ritual of his as light-hearted criticism, although yes, the frogs are robust vocalizers. If we were to take him seriously, we would have to do the unthinkable: poison or drain the pond.
Instead, I don’t push beyond finding it mildly perplexing that someone would not think the high-pitched mating calls soothing. Indeed, I love to nod off to their songs and prefer to imagine that upon reading this, city dwellers will feel a small pang of jealousy.
I know from experience that there are stimulations some might find pleasant that I do not. For instance, I do not like gallery openings. It is not a wholly unmanageable scene, yet it does require extra effort to navigate around conversations held directly in front of a piece of art I wish to see closely. And heaven forbid that a piece of art involve some discrete audio element, for filtering out casual conversations is not easy. Yet, because I do what I do (write about art), I must sometimes wade into these waters, and this is what I did this last Tuesday as Grand Detour’s Experimental Film Festival opened the Gallery Homeland portion of their city wide programming.
Now, it is not my job to openly promote this festival, but I will mention that as this little essay goes to press, there are still worthy events, including screenings, that you can look into on their website.
Now, where was I? Inside the gallery and a bit overwhelmed: music, flashing screens, people talking, eating and drinking, and more screens vying for my attention. I see some people I know and try to have a conversation but the volume is too much for my ears to catch all that is being said, so I excuse myself.
Still, it remains hard to focus. GalleryHomeland, even as spacious as it is, is a difficult space to curate. Work often gets bunched together in the back, while the long hallway between the main space and the front entrance gets somewhat neglected. Then, usually, one will find a couple more pieces in the foyer area as almost an afterthought. Consequently, each work in the primary space can suffer because it’s hard to consider on its own; something else is always in the periphery. And when all of the art consists of moving images, it becomes all that much harder to give each piece one’s full attention.
Yet, if I am to come away with any other perceptions about this exhibit beyond the difficulty in writing about it, I know I must find a way to concentrate. My focus is drawn to three individual pieces, each with a fair amount of flesh. Two of them fall short of Kelly Rauer’s seven monitors for her “P.O.V. (reflexive),” for it manages — with no naughty bits to see — to go beyond the contorted desires of the relational gaze wanting in the others. What do I mean by this? Go see.
It may also be that Rauer manages to create a centerpiece for the whole exhibit, though we cannot give her credit for the curatorial decision. Some pieces are over-the-top garish, or else one gets the impression that an artist is unsuccessfully trying to be clever. Others are so staid, I would prefer to be home sitting on my couch, which might very well be the point of Christina Santa Cruz’s installation, “Gorgeous Media.”
So much to see, to take in, and parse, I reach overload and step outside. I see that I have a text message: “I am craving sex too!!!” The area code is local but from a number I do not recognize. Somehow it seems to fit with my sense of having been assaulted by the exhibit and music, even outside. I know better than to text back, and since the band has taken a break, go back to view the show again.
Not that the music was horrid. Nor was the production, Weird Fiction’s “The Cinemalgorithmic Unconscious: An Anchivo-Futurist Manifesto Unfurled in the Audiovisual Arena,” for which it had been the soundtrack. In fact, it was quite suitable to the title of the piece, as well as the elements involved in its real-time production. I could describe what I saw, but perhaps it is best to let the accompanying pamphlet speak for the work: “Amidst a vidsonic vortex of image, text and sound, participants are invited to contribute their own gestures, impressions and actions in efforts to pro-actively peruse and perplex the proverbial ‘popcorn movie’.” No clearer? You can take my word for it, or go see the remnants, for I have been told that the recording made Tuesday will soon be on display for the run of the show (through June 13).
“Vortex.” Now, there’s a word I can hang my hat on to describe the entirety of my experience, and duly vertiginous and at the end of my endurance, I chose to take a second look at Jason Gutz’ six-monitor installation, “Sequence” in the near-empty foyer. Set up somewhat like a cross between a comic book and silent movie, Gutz spins out a tale of woe. Although all of the monitors vie for attention, he offers some direction (hence, the title to some degree), and it is advised to concentrate thusly.
Finally certain that I had given all of the work enough of my time, I readied myself to leave. As I walked through the gallery toward the back door, someone called my name. It was Palma Corral, co-director for Place in the Pioneer Place Shopping Mall, and the site of yet another EFF exhibit that I intended to see in two day’s time. After pleasantries were exchanged, I told her I had been made a bit anxious by all of the hub-bub. She smiled and said for her it was no bother.
“Just look at the people, the videos and music as one big piece.” And with that I found peace. But I bid her farewell anyway, for I had miles to go before I could rest amid my mating frogs.
I missed EFF’s big hurrah at White Box Wednesday night. I was resting up. (The organizers are not so lucky to find respite, and they deserve a tip of the hat for managing this week of events, all the while providing me with images and schedules.) And so recovered from Tuesday’s onslaught, I ventured out to Place where three more artists, Brent Coughenour, Leo Daedalus and Kerry Laitala had installations.
I could have some onomatopoetic fun with Brent’s last name, although having met the guy, it would not be my inclination as he is pleasant and soft-spoken. Except, just like Tuesday night, again I was hit with a wall of sound when I entered the suite that held these artists’ works. Coughenour’s four-channel piece, “In Search of Lost Time,” was punctuated by dramatically held musical chords; further into the space, Laitala’s 3-D, three-channel video, “Glitter Gulch,” had an original soundtrack that included a host of sounds — none that particularly stood out — but could very well be considered a Noise composition; and in the backroom, Daedalus’s “Low Mass” antithetically droned.
The advantage these pieces had over the Gallery Homeland exhibit is that there was sufficient space between each work, so it was not difficult for my ears to filter out the competition, if I chose to do so. Yet, thanks to Ms. Corral, I had learned a valuable lesson at Homeland. It also helped that I was the sole viewer.
Some nights in the country, particularly after a heavy snow, it is so quiet when I crawl into bed that I can hear the whoosh of my blood as it courses through the arteries near my inner ears. The slightest change in air pressure becomes timpani and feedback. Then thoughts begin to race until I am finally exhausted enough to have those first dreams, always erratic yet managing somehow to make a strange sense. I think to remember them come morning, for were I to capture these occurrences in my art, then I should have a truly experimental piece of work!
I would suggest viewers attempt to bring this kind of ecstatic mindset to any of the remaining Experimental Film Festival events.
Spot On is a new feature of Oregon ArtsWatch written by Patrick Collier (writer, artist, former gallerist, organic farmer, keeper of frogs). You can read his first installment here.