Poetry in motion works some of the time

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All this talk about video sent me off to the newest video exhibition in town–“Surface Tension,” now showing at the Fabric Workshop and Museum.

Nadia Hironaka’s “My Stars,” two videos transformed by two star-shaped kaleidoscopic mirrors inset in the walls (shown left). The two videos (“National” and “International”) took me on two futuristic journeys into either deep space or cyberspace–or maybe into a mirror-image of what’s cooking in Hironaka’s mind. The soundtrack included walkie-talkie-ish communications: “Base one to Unit 1” gets the scary reply, “We have some activity here; silence is advised.”

I was brought down by the program notes that told me the footage was shot in vacant architectural spaces. Oooh, that killed the poetry of the inhospitable spaces. Fortunately, I didn’t read the program notes until after I had gone on her pleasant journey. Another quibble. One of the stars was just the right height for a child to view, but not for a middle-aged lady whose back isn’t up to bending for long periods of time.

Peter Rose’s “Pneumenonal” (image right) seemed like a meditation on the poetic and its underpinnings. The screen was a loose scrim, at times animated by a fan. But the image itself was of a blowing cloth. And the layers of images and their relationship to the cameras and the cloth took a while to puzzle out. But I sure did enjoy going through the process. The jet-plane whooshing noise was pretty funny–although it leaked into the other room, interfering with the experience of the other videos.

The show, curated by Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative Curatorial Fellow Cassandra Coblentz, is about video projected in ways that challenge the traditional screen and depictions of depth.

Some of the pieces fit the paradigm better than others, but the three that hit the nail on the head are the two above and Tony Oursler’s “Wavefront,” (shown left) which projects through a tv-antenna-like armature and then onto the wall behind it. I admired it for the antenna and the emotion in the eyes of the talking head, both evocative of the televised world we live in.

The program notes added that the piece is part of a body of work in which Oursler studied a group of people who believed they could use technology to commune with the dead. I could have lived without the info and still gotten plenty out of the piece.

Look for the opening Friday, Sept. 5, starting at 6:30 p.m., with its highlight of the outdoor projection across a rooftop onto a building of a series of screen savers designed by artists (from Not in Service, a.k.a. Aaron Igler plus collaborators–Igler also gets the photo credits on the publicity shots here) . The screen savers can be downloaded if you follow the link to LURE from the “Surface Tension” web-based catalog that will go on line at the FWM’s website as of Sept. 5.

Others in the show include Camille Utterback’s interactive piece with its pixillated rain animated by motion, Nicole Cohen’s “Jet Lag,” which seems to raise some questions about space (not outer space, although the space depicted is in an airplane) and Jim Campbell’s “Ambiguous Icon (Running, Falling),” which uses technology to reduce realistic imagery to but a shadow of itself.

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