Video art is still in the process of establishing itself. Despite the fact that art has been created through the medium over the course of the past century, it’s still hard to pin down what forms video art can take, and what vocabulary we use to talk about it. At New York University’s 80WSE gallery, a current exhibition entitled By Chance, a Video Show, marshals together video art in its multivalent states, from video-as-installation to video-as-flat surface to video-as-collage. Artists including Alejandro Cesarco, Jason Varone and Nayda Collazo-Llorens explore the different possibilities of video art.
Though not meant to be an encyclopedic or entirely academic exercise (the exhibition’s wall text poses it as a kind of emotional tone poem, the most confusing aspect of the entire show), By Chance, a Video Show manages to represent a few of the different strategies artists use when dealing with video. Arranged in loose succession without a strong over-arching narrative, the exhibition is more impressive for its art than its curation, however. Though the show begins with Seoungho Cho’s superficial, overly flashy 4-screen installation “Neon 2” (2010), the exhibition’s heart lays elsewhere.
Nayda Collazo-Llorens’ room-size installation “Unfolding the Triangle (NYC)” (pictured at top) is more of a trip, chiefly for the fact that it stretches outside of video art as an end in itself, instead placing video monitors and footage in the context of other materials. Snaking reflective tape lines wind their way around the walls, connecting bits of text, drawings and images that all loosely form narratives of UFO spottings, strange encounters and supernatural phenomena that have occurred around New York City. Video screens dot the walls as well, with looping abstract moving images like soft-focused search beams pointed at a conspiracy theorist’s camera. Intriguing for its embrace of multiple media, the piece’s actual content and execution leave a little to be desired.
Both Beryl Korot and Alejandro Cesarco use the medium of video for narrative storytelling with pieces that take the now-normal single-channel format projected movie theater-style against a large wall. Korot’s “Florence” (2008/09) mingles rain and rushing water imagery with the primary source narrative of a soldier slogging flooded through trench warfare. The writer’s words also fall like rain. Cesarco further destabilizes the concept of a narrative with “Two Stories” (2010) (seen above), a French New Wave-style exploration of an empty European parlor room, voiced over by a narrator who narrates himself telling an unnamed story to a now-absent audience seated in the same room. The narration loops in circles, with no beginning or end. Cesarco had by far the most delicate, and perhaps the most traditionally art-world-ready, piece in the exhibition. I quite liked his confused sense of teller and listener, voyeur and witness.
If Collazo-Llorens’ use of video in the context of multimedia collage was a little too loose, artists Jason Varone and Jaime Davidovich have sharper takes on that strategy. Varone’s “Dromospheric Pollution” (2011) was both wall drawing and projection. Broiling clouds, or maybe plumes of smoke from some unseen tragedy, sharply etched in thin black lines cover the walls of the artist’s space while video projectors added strings of apocalyptic news headlines descending from the clouds, again, like rain. The mingling of the hand-drawn and the digital is powerful, and the headlines, from environmental catastrophes to medical emergencies, are urgent and relevant in a time of 24/7 media onslaught, but I wish the work felt more ambitious and more finished. It’s the beginning of an inquiry well suited to a university gallery. Davidovich’s installation is less successful but perhaps more superficially pretty, with videos of bucolic scenes projected onto small painted canvases. The canvases give the videos a physical surface and texture, but that doesn’t make their content any more interesting.
This exhibition excels by its artists, who present object examples of different ways to think about video art. Whether strictly narrative, ambient, collaged into a greater installation or some combination of all of the above, together these artists presented an expanded portrait of video art important for its diversity. We could all use more shows like these to further our own understanding of the different possibilities and avenues that video art takes, presented in a context that facilitates contrast and comparison. What’s immediately apparent here is that video art can’t simply be defined by a single strategy.
By Chance, a Video Show is on view at 80WSE (80 Washington Square East) through tomorrow Saturday, March 12.