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Blue Sky Impermanence


[Serendipity alert: I didn’t see Brent’s post before I put this one in the queue. But I love that the Starn Twins and their work about impermanence is echoed here by Gary Simmons‘ snowflake/impermanence piece “Desert Blizzard” now at the PMA Video Gallery. The snowflake of course is an almost perfect symbol for the life’s swiftness, beauty and impermanence and these artists make use of it in elegant and elegaic pieces.]

I was up at the PMA to interview new Contemporary Art Curator Carlos Basualdo (more of that in the Weekly some time soon). So took a run through the Contemporary Galleries to see what’s new. Nothing to report: No changes since last time. But in the Video Gallery I ran into an old friend, Gary Simmons “Desert Blizzard,” (1997) an 8-minute gem which is a perfect oasis on a cold winter day.

I’d seen this piece before and written about it for the Weekly and my feelings about it are much the same. Here’s what I wrote when I first encountered the lyrical and existential piece. (it’s up now through December)

Plane Truth

As slow as a hot summer day when you’re 12 years old, Desert Blizzard, a video by Gary Simmons, invites you to look at the sky for eight minutes and think about what’s up and who’s down and how quickly things disappear. Blizzard, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s video gallery, is a skywriting piece in which you see vapors trail from a small airplane as it makes passes through the deep-blue desert sky in response to directions from the artist below. You don’t really see the plane, because it’s all shot from far away. And you don’t see the artist. But you do occasionally hear him talking on walkie-talkie with the pilot.

More than that, you especially hear the plane. It’s the drone of the crop duster in North By Northwest, a swelling and receding as the plane banks and climbs and shoots out its liquid paraffin trail.

The audio component alone makes a nice, lazy, almost-drunken bumblebee ambiance. As for the skywriting, the best moments come when, into the blue sky, a fast line of white appears, speeds along and stops just as abruptly as it began. Another line comes and crosses the first to make an “X.”

A third line makes a kind of asterisk, or star. Then it all begins to drift and fall apart. It’s a good, slow atmospheric piece by an artist concerned with issues of African-American identity–and invisibility.