The second floor of the Room Mate Grace Hotel last Wednesday night was humid. A crush of guests lined up around the hotel’s small pool and perched on bleachers staring down on it, hypnotized not just by the summer atmosphere but by the surface of the water. The pool didn’t look so much like a pool as a floating vat of primordial mist. Dancing on the upper layer of mist, circles of light bubbled up like so many blown smoke rings. The surreal vision was an artwork, called “Materialization/De-Materialization,” installed by Marco Brambilla for After Hours, a monthly series of events hosted by the Clocktower Gallery & ARTonAIR.org and Times Square Arts of which Hyperallergic is the exclusive media sponsor.
Cast upon the water by an array of large projectors, the circles of light were actually composed of tiny figures. As the circles got larger, the human beings making them up became clearer, shimmering in the liquid medium. Brambilla plucked these people from vintage episodes of Star Trek (1966–69), appropriating the show’s iconic teleportation sequence, in which the actors’ bodies dissolve into points of light before vanishing entirely, for his installation. The artist removed each character from its background and placed the decontextualized, surreal forms into a dark haze. According to the artist, the piece incorporates every single figure ever transported in the original television series.
Teleportation sequences from Star Trek: Next Generation
The rings of human forms repeat and multiply, gradually growing and vanishing in alternating patterns. Brambilla is known for incorporating appropriated footage into his work. His “Creation (Megaplex),” which recently was shown at Nicole Klagsbrun gallery in Chelsea, samples hundreds of famous films into a flight of recognizable imagery. “It’s about the disposability of film and images in an oversaturated world,” Brambilla told the New York Times. “Content in the background to marketing.”
Brambilla’s practice doesn’t shy away from the commercial. He created a well-received music video for Kanye West’s hit single “POWER” and installed a video in the elevator of the hip Standard Hotel in New York City. His work presents an anodyne encounter with aesthetic repurposing, wrapped into enjoyable compositions. Yet that’s precisely the problem with “Materialization/De-Materialization” — it doesn’t do much to transcend the source material, content to re-present it in a flashier, up-market context. (Though the ethereal soundtrack to the piece performed on organ by Cammisa Buerhaus went some way to creating an air of deeper mystery.)
Marco Brambilla’s video for Kanye West’s “POWER”
What was interesting about Brambilla’s hotel piece is what he chose to intersperse into the middle of the 60-minute loop. The beguiling Star Trek figures were interrupted once a cycle with a frenetic loop of advertising for products like Coke and other big brands for a three-minute stretch. The interruption was an inversion of Times Square’s Midnight Moment, a series of art videos displayed once a night for three minutes just before 12 am. Instead, Brambilla cleverly breaks up his art with the same commercials that run in Times Square. It was an incisive gesture, particularly for the context of a short-lived art party — rather than simply entertaining and placating the visitors, the commercials were disruptive and intrusive, provoking thought about what actually goes on in that frenetic urban space.
Marco Brambilla’s “Materialization/De-Materialization” was on view at the first After Hours event hosted by Clocktower gallery and Times Square Arts, with Hyperallergic as exclusive media partner.