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Kenneth Shorr,
Kenneth Shorr, "Black Widow," Video still. Courtesy Pierogi.

The title of Pierogi’s video show, one-on-one, in Gallery One at Pierogi 2000 refers both to the intimate videos as well as the cubicles that partition the gallery into a maze of individual viewing stations. The installation is an effective framing device for the overtly narrative and conversational videos. The press release makes reference to the "talking head" which aptly describes the mannered style of the selections. The effort to historicize the work by connecting it to the minimal production values of the ’70s and ’80s presents a problem. The availability of digital technology from miniDV to Final Cut Pro has given artists tools to expand their production values without large budgets or skill. Much of the work in the current show, however, seems self-consciously retrograde with decidedly mixed results.

Jim Torok’s dry humor in "You are Good" (2003) is employed with gentle irony as a simple, animated stick figure intermittently says complimentary phrases with a trace of passive aggressiveness. At one point he says "You’ve lost weight," followed by "I like you." The implication that one may have been obese reveals the odd duality of the seemingly neutral stick figure. It functions like a surreal Sesame Street episode made for adults suffering from depression or a lesson on being nice. Torok’s apparently genuine character is still slightly creepy with his monotone delivery and long pauses. Torok is able to parody the "talking head" and use the convention to create something else entirely.

Matt Marello is also inventive in his use of technology. His carefully edited lip-synching in "Decline" (2003) creates an unsettling portrait of artistic optimism. In the pixilated, stop-motion video Marello mouths upbeat statements of anonymous, struggling artists or perhaps actors who seem to have no recourse for failure. Marello’s video is humorous at first, though through repetition it increasingly becomes less of a mantra than a warning. The downbeat assessments people offer about the possibility of failure offset the sunny optimism they initially display. Marello’s short video gains currency with each loop because it starts to hint at the masses waiting for their "big break." It’s successful because it is able to accomplish this without bitter cynicism.

Tavares Strachan’s video "September 24th, 10:24pm" is a clever video-within-a-video as it presents what may have been on television at the time of the title: Seinfeld, commercials, a nightly news update. During the short video, an African-American man, perhaps the artist, appears on screen counting grains of salt. This video or performance titled "702,000,000.00" is a moment of what may have been a monumentally obsessive task of counting several hundred thousand grains of salt. The interruption lasts only a few moments before reverting back to the regular station programming. It is an odd work that feels like it is somehow asking the audience to look critically at television through a critique of racial representation using minimal intervention. It feels like Strachan wants the programming to reveal its own transparent racism through what it lacks, and what his addition provides— a moment of color.

Shannon Plumb’s vignettes, which look like film-to-video transfers, begin promisingly. Each selection from a longer series features the artist silently mugging for the camera with overdone music, sound effects, or appropriated narration. Ultimately, the use of silent film era acting— think Keystone Cops and Chaplin— has an unwelcome leveling effect. If these are ironic, feminist critiques of gender stereotypes in film, perhaps broader quotation of cinematic styles might help. Deborah Edmeades’s "The Painter" (2001) seems very much like a feminist critique of the objectification of the female body in figurative painting. Despite the explicit critique, Edmeades’s performance based video is simply not shocking or absurd enough in the wake of much more confrontational body art. Edmeades’s caricatures aren’t aggressive enough to add to the critical dialogue.

David Kramer’s vignettes from "Jobsite" (2003) portray an unfunny, uninspired artist coming to grips with a failed artistic career. The appropriation of a home improvement style setup for the character’s confessions about the insular and often inane art world is extremely thin, like a poor setup for a drawn out joke. The attempts to critique the art world exude a weary cynicism that deflates any revelation. Kim Kimball’s series of short videos aim for confessional pathos, yet they also have an air of deeply felt cynicism. Kimball’s surreal setups are funnier than Kramer’s, but his "Art Therapy Session" is another trek through self-loathing and paranoia. His quick takes in "Disclaimer" and "Caught" are better as they eschew the familiarity of the art world for strange, quirky moments of self-deprecating humor. These moments work because they disengage from the formulaic.

Phyllis Baldino’s and Kenneth Shorr’s videos suffer from excessive reliance on technique. Baldino’s "ParaUniVersesVersesVerses" (2003) tries to make multi-channel overlays and transparency into a metaphor for the theory of parallel universes. The effect is too obvious and the visual metaphor of ever diverging space and time seems overly simplistic. Shorr’s lip-synching videos work best when the subjects he mimes are recognizable, as in "My Friend Francis." Here Shorr revels in the absurdity of the dialogue and adds a layer of humorous activity to the otherwise static presentations. The other short videos are merely confusing, static monologues that don’t reveal much about the identity of the artist or the speaker.

As a group show, one-on-one is true to its billing, a collection of willfully retro videos that seek truth through plays on language and identity rather than slickly produced imagery. But this self-imposed limitation seems to hinder the development of several interesting ideas. Using a low-tech, do-it-yourself approach shouldn’t be a barrier to creative development, especially given the vast improvements and availability of technology since the advent of the genre.


William Powhida


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2003

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