Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
The walls of Gallery A at the University of Missouri—St. Louis’ Gallery 210 have been no stranger to the more avant-garde side of art, from chaotic sound machines to performance art using human beings as props. The newest exhibit to grace the inside of Gallery A, however, is not contained in these outlandish media, nor do they exist in the paints and oils of classic art. The digital world is what frames the various works of video art that make up the current Gallery 210 exhibit, “VIDEO210: Selections of Video Art from the Gallery 210 Collection.”
The first video that introduces patrons to “VIDEO210” is an exercise in special effects, Julia Hechtman’s “Small Miracles.” The video is a series of micro-scenes in which a woman is on screen performing feats of magic, from summoning lightning between her hands to turning her eyeballs into planets and carrying galaxies in her hand. Considering that the film was made in 2006, the effects are a little underwhelming to watch, but the juxtaposition of unearthly abilities and the female body give it an interesting feminist twist.
On the other end of the special effects spectrum, at least in terms of purpose, is Susie Silver and Hilary Harp’s “Robot Love,” which combines disco with robots in a very 1980s-style music video, down to the screen wipes and strobe lights. This is probably the most carefree and lighthearted video of the set and is just fun to watch. Plus, the song itself, by band Ganymed, is an earworm of a track that is difficult to forget with its simplistic lyrics, repetition of sounds, and robotic vocals.
Political statements are commonplace in “VIDEO210,” but some are less effective than others. Case in point: Les LeVeque’s “Backwards Birth of a Nation,” which takes the classic racist film by D. W. Griffith and flips it backwards and speeds it up, turning a three hour plus film into a 13-minute video art piece. As a work of anti-racist activism, it falters, but it is a visual marvel, turning characters into silver and white phantoms on the screen while other images look like dark cut outs on top of washed out backgrounds. The audio sounds like glitchy 8-bit music strung through a classical orchestra pit. As art made for art’s sake, it is interesting, but some may find the combination of sped-up sound and video to be seizure-inducing.
More successful is Alex Rivera and Lalo Lopez’s “Animaquiladora,” a bitingly satirical take on Mexican-American relations and the violent xenophobia that is prevalent in the immigration conversation. Through computer animated segments, Rivera and Lopez take on the politics behind the phrase ‘illegal alien’ with a fake film trailer depicting giant flying sombreros, how “Latinos on TV” are portrayed (i.e. not at all), and anti-bracero racism. The last point is addressed with a propagandist advertisement for the “Cybraceros”—robotic replacements for Mexican farm hands so Mexican workers can still pick crops from home while Americans can take advantage of their labor without the fear of immigrants coming over the border.
While Jim Finn’s “Dick Cheney in a Cold Dark Place” is a creative usage of video editing techniques, the actual content does not connect with its title or the apparent intended message. Finn juxtaposes Judy Garland’s “The Man Who Got Away” with scenes from films such as “Damien: The Omen II,” which in itself creates a lovely feeling of cognitive dissonance. But if, as Finn’s artist statement claims, the piece is a comment on “amount of anxiety created by a vice president who usurped authority for eight years” before retiring to private life, then maybe that intent should be made clearer in the work itself, not just in the accompanying material.
Capping off the exhibit is the most dominant video art in the collection: Jesse McLean’s “Just Like Us,” the sound of which fills the room for the few moments it actually has sound. Reliant on a combination of natural audio and Europe’s “Take My Breath Away,” the main ‘voice’ of the piece comes through in the on-screen subtitles of an unheard interview that seems to be narrating a story running parallel to the visuals of the film. Dominant images are of consumerism and celebrity culture in their most naked, simplest forms, reducing figures of power and wealth into empty vessels and faceless figures. In a way, the voice that McLean lends to the film through the subtitles is the voice of anyone who has felt closed in or shut out from their own past by the creeping touch of modern industry.
A variety of film art can be found at “VIDEO210,” and while some videos impress more than others, the wide array of subject matter and media makes it an appealing exploration through the way artists use film to tell a story or make a statement. The exhibit will be on display at Gallery 210 until March 22. For more information, including gallery hours and upcoming shows, visit the gallery online at gallery210.umsl.edu or by phone at 314-516-5976.