By Jessica Anne Clark
Through October 2nd
Group shows are sometimes akin to shared housing: ragtag bunches of wayward objects take shelter beneath bursts of halogen light to create a dubious whole. Under the auspices of amorphous themes, these inanimate strangers bide but never bond. In more mindful groupings, the works coalesce into a rich society full of feasting, discussion, argument, and agreement. Moving On is an excellent example of just this sort of household, with curator Ryan McCartney as captain of the commune. With bodies, mind and motion as the main topic of conversation, this collection of work by Carolee Schneemann, Tim Belknap, and William Blackhurst, is currently in residence at Tiger Strikes Asteroid’s new digs.
To the right of the entrance, around a corner, Carolee Schneemann’s film Fuses (1964-66) flickers from a flat screen TV. While I’d been made aware of Fuses’ sexual content well in advance, my first eye-full was off-putting all the same. Though dully affecting, I find sex-act-as-subject more yawn-inducing than a celebrity sex tape. That being said, Schneemann’s film belongs to a sexual epoch prior to the porn-saturated present where one moan is indistinguishable from the next. Besides, Fuses has far more to offer than sex.
Schneemann shot Fuses on 16mm film, which she then tinted and scratched, creating a kaleidoscope freckled with fine black pops and scrapes that often obscure the original image. At times the focus tightens, revealing the soft creases of a slender pinky or lips pulled back from straight white teeth, the speed drastically slowed. These images give way to wide shots of copulating couples, clear and unmistakable. Fuses’ pace changes at organic intervals, swaying in time with gyrating hips and flailing limbs. Between these vibrating frames of color, motion and sweat, a medium-sized grey cat appears in various positions, stretching on a leaf-lined windowsill then curling beside a bookcase. Is the cat some sort of furry voyeur? While I was watchingFuses, thinking “what’s the deal with this cat?” a woman nearby mentioned a talk she’d attended in which Schneemann described kissing her cat in graphic detail. “Now these were deep kisses,” the woman said.
Apparently, voyeurism is not what drives Fuses. The term implies a sort of secrecy and separation, whereas art provides a platform for communion: artist, object and viewer have a momentary chance at unity. Though creation and viewership can be solitary acts, both processes are geared toward connection. Once all my girlish giggles and marm-ish harrumphs had been stifled, I found myself flowing with Fuses’ changing rhythms, much like the sexual synchronization occurring on screen.
Fittingly, rotating 180º from Fuses brings the viewer before a little gyrating half-skeleton, animal in origin. Fuses’ sexuality oozes out onto Tim Belknap’s mechanized limbs, set in motion by the viewer’s approach. Tender Hooligans’ rotations soon dispel any idea of post-coital bliss, replacing Fuses’ warm bodies with the lower half of a cold one. The pelvic bone is bolted and wired into an understated contraption that controls its motion. A counter ticks off each revolution of these shaky hips; the scoreboard read “89” when I arrived. Two gears rest horizontally near the base of the structure with chains in their teeth. Belknap does not hide the cold mechanical facts of Tender Hooligans’ abilities: the source of its animation is in full view. Still, I could not resist anthropomorphizing Tender Hooligans’ trembling form, which began to take on a geriatric quality (how quickly we move from sex to death). Tender Hooligans reminds us of our own clinical reality, the seemingly impersonal skeleton beneath muscle, fat and flesh. I was brought back to Fuses, with each body suddenly stripped to the bone.
Tender Hooligans is interactive (we move, the skeleton responds) but the experience is not really shared. Each time I relate to the swing of those hips I am met with the metallic glint of the gears. Though there can be no movement, no “life” without the motor, it’s easy to treat it as separate, uninvited. Between Schneemann and Belknap, an interesting dialogue is created: issues of participation and connectivity take on an added complexity when sex and robots join forces. When true reciprocation is called into question, feelings are rendered unreliable. This uncertainty can spiral out, wreaking emotional havoc.
Circling back towards the entrance, two flat-screen monitors hang slightly apart displaying William Blackhurst’s Pic-Nic, Assorted Loops and Scanner Bed Diver. These “hybrid animations” represent this London-based artist’s gallery debut. Though the shift from Belknap to Blackhurst is less striking than the move from Schneemann to Belknap, Blackhurst’s digital offerings are relevant. A child in what appears to be an oversized Wolverine costume occupies the bottom corner of one monitor, touching the mask every now and again. A girl in a swimsuit joyously runs around a pool in the background. The picture has been manipulated, creating a home movie amped to eleven. With a flash, the screen bleaches to white and is filled with bobbing red polka dots. While I can still make out the shapes of Wolverine and the kid sister, they are now conglomerations of rusty spheres. The scenery shifts from identifiable to blown-out and abstract; Blackhurst’s imagery and pacing is more spastic than Schneemann’s.
While the imagery on the left monitor seems derived predominantly from live action footage, the imagery on the right is more varied. Whirling animated colors give way to speeding shots of woven cloth, the curling hairs of a sweater dancing jerkily. Rubber stamps bouncily morph one into the next. From the mottled texture of fine water color paper to the rolling ridges of canvas bolts, Blackhurst’s images have bite. Digital imagery often feels slippery, lacking tactility, but these hybrid animations have a mucky physicality.
This progression from Schneemann through Belknap to Blackhurst shifts perception from body to mind and back again. In the company of Belknap’s skeleton-machine, the passionate physicality of Schneemann’s lovers appears mechanized and foreign. With Blackhurst corporeality is temporarily abandoned. A parade of images blink forth; coded with hidden messages from hidden places. Blown out neon signs flash conspiratorially. Figures move about but their flesh has been replaced with streaks and dots. It is the palpability of Blackhurst’s tweak-fest that finally brings the viewer back to the physical. Texture invites touch, and my fingers twitch at the ready.
Ms. Clark is a freelance artist, writer, babysitter and coffee-drinker. She recently received an MFA in painting from the University of the Arts.