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Exploring Life’s Dead Ends on Repeat

Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques' 'The Exploration of Dead Ends' at Station Independent Projects (all images courtesy the artist)
Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques’ ‘The Exploration of Dead Ends’ at Station Independent Projects (all images courtesy the artist)

I have always contended that video art is the hardest to make, in part because it’s the easiest. In our digital world, anyone can pick up their phone or (gasp) a camera and produce “video art.” The trick is to make it compelling and to use the medium in a way that transcends clichés.

Station Independent Projects, a sliver of space on the Lower East Side, is currently presenting a video piece by Pierre St-Jacques that not only transcends the medium’s clichés, but is a work of such intense longing and beauty that stepping back out onto the hubbub of Suffolk Street is a shock.

Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques' 'The Exploration of Dead Ends' at Station Independent Projects
Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques’ ‘The Exploration of Dead Ends’ at Station Independent Projects (click to enlarge)

The piece, titled “The Exploration of Dead Ends” (2012–14), is presented on six video monitors of different sizes that are puzzled together into a single unit. The narrative flows throughout, around, and between the six screens in a fluid poetic movement that seems effortless, belying the hours of time in the editing room that it must have taken to make the piece so seamless.

The video is on a continuous loop, and viewers witness over and over again the journey of a middle-aged man name William as he moves through both his real and inner lives. The loop reinforces the notion that the psychological patterns we inhabit are inescapable and inevitable. William relives his “dead ends” throughout eternity, as if trapped in a dream that will not end.

This is a piece about our deep longing to connect. We share William’s joys, frustrations, and, in one harrowing scene of emasculation, his existential loneliness — and perhaps our own.

There are some very heavy themes running thorough this piece, as well moments of great beauty and quiet joy — the light on a leaf, the fleeting smile on a loved one’s face. These are the glimmers of hope that keep William and perhaps the rest of us going in lives that the artist sees as, well, “dead ends.”

Still from "The Exploration of Dead Ends" by Pierre St-Jacques
Still from “The Exploration of Dead Ends” by Pierre St-Jacques

The multiple points of view presented on the six screens give viewers the sense of being just as fully immersed in every moment of the story as William is. He greets a woman on one screen, we see her eyes glance at him on another, another screen shows the same greeting from a different angle, we also get a closeup on her lips, a view of the room around them, and so on. Then suddenly the next image flows over all of the screens, uniting the narrative, the moment, and our understanding of how the brain processes disparate experiences simultaneously. The moment sparks an epiphany of connection, which is lost again as the loop continues.

This piece is a very potent, both visually and psychologically. Ask for a chair and sit and watch the work. I found it mesmerizing and layered, each viewing revealing more nuance. The rest of the show consists of stills from the video. Several of the larger photos are quite striking on their own. There is a book of the artist’s storyboards that, for those who are interested, details the painstaking process of putting a piece like this together.

Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques' 'The Exploration of Dead Ends' at Station Independent Projects
Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques’ ‘The Exploration of Dead Ends’ at Station Independent Projects

But the stars of this show are William and his creator. The fleeting encounter with this artistic dream may leave you sad, enlightened, or with a sense of self-recognition.  St-Jacques’s work is among the best in its challenging medium, offering a radical answer to one of the central questions of our time: what’s on TV?

The Exploration of Dead Ends continues at Station Independent Projects (164 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through December 14.

Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques' 'The Exploration of Dead Ends' at Station Independent Projects
Installation view of Pierre St-Jacques’ ‘The Exploration of Dead Ends’ at Station Independent Projects
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