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David Dempewolf’s personal fantasia, in video installations at Tiger Strikes Asteroid

Logan Cryer crafts a lyrical review of 'David Dempewolf: suncatchers,' a video installation featuring kaleidoscopic and distorted imagery captured with experimental film techniques. Logan points out the exhibition's focus on emptiness, repetition, and interior spaces- themes that Logan finds pertinent as we continue to emerge from quarantine due to Covid-19. 'David Dempewolf: suncatchers," is on view at Tiger Strikes Asteroid through June 26, 2021.

Large video installation in a bare room with white walls. One wall is filled with a video projection of an exterior nature scene. It looks like it was filmed from an interior space, due to a horizontal rectangle of gray shadow 1/3 down from the top of the frame, possibly a windowpane. The image is blurry and distorted, but the central image appears to be a tree, with shadows from the tree on the left-hand side of the frame, and what looks like the side of a house on the right-hand side of the frame.
Installation view, ‘David Dempewolf: suncatchers’ at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Philadelphia, PA

Projectors point towards each end of the dim, L-shaped gallery. Two films flicker silently in the empty room as luminous echoes bounce off of the bare white walls.

This installation is called suncatchers and is staged by David Dempewolf, an artist, educator and curator who runs Marginal Utility Gallery with his wife and collaborative partner, Yuka Yokoyama. Exhibitions of Dempewolf’s own work are rare. suncatchers offers a timely glimpse into his playful approach to existential curiosity.

For years, Dempewolf has developed an intensely researched practice around the functionality of vision. Eyesight is a biologically and philosophically complex phenomenon and Dempewolf’s artwork is grounded in both empiricism and psychedelia. The two videos shown in his exhibition match the rapid and fluttering rhythms of experimental film pioneer, Stan Brakhage. They are a fantasia of geo-domestic imagery; house interiors and outdoor locations establish the nondualism of home and environment.

“Suncatchers,” the longer of his two videos, utilizes stereoscopic filmmaking. The footage is shot with two cameras that are tilted inward towards each other. Together they produce a bizarrely dimensional image. Hand-painted animations of dots, color blocks, and floating dashes appear intermittently in a wondrous rush. They are representative of phosphenes and wandering mental imagery.

Film still of a dark black background with irregularly shaped and organic patches of blue and green in varying sizes. There are also four light gray and white patches that extend from the center top down towards the bottom left. The bottom three resemble distorted reflections in a window.
Still image, ‘suncatchers’ from ‘David Dempewolf: suncatchers’ at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Philadelphia, PA

A significant portion of “Suncatchers” is centered on Dempewolf’s kitchen window. Through it, there is a verdant backyard that is tended by Yokoyama. At other times, we merely watch the shadows rake over the fence and trees as the day passes. A few colorful glass suncatchers dangle in the window. Other locations include skate parks, city streets, graveyards, and the subway, as well as tree branches in the sky and patches of dead grass.

By constructing a body of work that is about sight, Dempewolf volunteers himself for an intimate display of his own life. Perhaps it is possible to manufacture a film that is about vision in a strictly objective manner. However, Dempewolf allows his personal fascinations to largely guide the flow of “Suncatchers.” Shots of Yokoyama linger, new floral growth is highlighted, at one point a suncatcher shaped like a girl is overlaid over the speeding footage of a skatepark, as if she were gliding along. In his artist statement, Dempewolf makes sure to mention that a steel sculpture that sits in the backyard was fabricated by David Carrow, a close family member who passed away in 2020.

“Camera Obscura” is a video piece that was, in fact, constructed using a camera obscura positioned in front of the same kitchen window in Dempwolf’s home. Dempewolf then recorded the soft light and shadow that landed on his wall. Time-lapsed, “Camera Obscura” progresses rapidly, ending periodically in blackouts at the conclusion of each “scene.” Each movement emphasises of the ever changing color of sunlight and the occasional appearance of Dempewolf and/or his wife. In shadow, it is impossible to tell who is present or if both bodies are. Likely at times, they merge into one form.

Blurry and shadowy image of a 12-paned window with blue and green objects-- possibly window ornaments-- of different sizes occupying the majority of the window panes.
Still image, ‘Camera Obscura” from ‘David Dempewolf: suncatchers’ at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Philadelphia, PA

As the term “post-pandemic” is used with greater frequency, new artworks will increasingly be assessed by their perceived relevance to the events of the last year and a half. suncatchers could be understood through this lens, and reviewed based on its repetitive representations of interiority, which indeed, were a consequence of the quarantine.

I find that what makes suncatchers a triumph of an exhibition is its profound emptiness. As I watched Dempewolf’s videos, there was not a strong feeling within me of how I should feel about the work or in which ways I should critically analyze them. None of the curatorial text makes a declaration of meaning. Dempewolf makes no effort to fill the rest of the gallery, as some may, with evidence of the labor he put into his videos; no animation cells, photography, or corresponding sculptural interpretations. What is there, is there. suncatchers requires that we step into the hollow space where the artist once stood when creating the work that, in time, we would witness ourselves; to surrender to the experience of another and therefore, make it our own.

David Dempewolf: suncatchers‘ is on view May 22 – June 26, 2021 at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Crane Arts Building, 1400 N American St #107, Philadelphia, PA, 19122