Oct 262011
Authors: Alan Perry

Video art started in the 1960s, with artists like Andy Warhol and Nam June Paik. It’s new, relatively speaking. Painting has been around for millennia, sculpture for just as much and video art’s close relative – photography – for almost 200 years.

It’s practically an infant, and shares a lot of quirks with performance art. That all being considered, the University Center for the Arts has an exhibition in its gallery that features an important founding member of video art: Steina. I was able to go to the “Artist’s Talk” and gallery opening for the exhibit on Oct. 3, and the best word to describe it would be phantasmagorical.

“Artist’s Talk” is misleading –– it was really a performance, as Steina didn’t do much talking.

Instead of discussing her work she played it, quite literally. In 1964, she was part of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, presumably playing the violin. In the true spirit of art in the 21st Century, her performance engaged the audience in multiple ways. She would play an electric violin, which in turn would manipulate and control a video that was projected onto a screen to the right of her.

Despite taking music theory last semester, I have to admit that I don’t know a lick about music. But I will say that the auditory side of her performance was haunting, atonal and arrhythmic (as far as I could tell). The video was just as evocative and disconcerting.

It showed six different vignettes ordered and presented in a way that was both incongruous and anxious, displaying scenes varying from beautiful trees to someone dancing and slipping on shards of glass. Combined with the eerie violin music, it induced a horrible feeling of anxiety and nervousness. It wasn’t bad, just bizarrely idiosyncratic.

The exhibit will be up until Dec.16, and it shares the gallery with an exhibit concerning African metalworking and the 17th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition.

The exhibit contains six projections of rotating hemispheres made out of nine frames each. Within each frame is footage that changes around 12 times. The footage has all been taken from nature, and companion audio taken from the environment accompanies the projections.

The projections themselves are rather pixelated, which runs counter to the footage of nature. This seems to be the basis of the work –– bringing disparate aspects together. All of the horizon lines are tilted as well, which adds up to a piece that makes one feel bizarrely tense and apprehensive.

The hemispheres are the strangest part, though; by looking at the piece, one is looking at a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object containing two-dimensional frames that contain footage of three-dimensional reality.

What it all adds up to is what Steina is about: making people feel strained and uncomfortable, but in a subtle way. Like a step-uncle that drinks too much at family reunions.

While it isn’t necessarily beautiful or pleasing art, it is challenging. And one of art’s most powerful functions is challenging how we perceive the world. Plus, being in such a tense environment will only make you more comfortable when you go home to a warm blanket and cup of hot chocolate.

Local art columnist Alan Perry can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:29 pm

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