Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: De Montreal:Videos at the ATA

Last Friday I went to De Montreal at the ATA, which presented the work of nine Montreal-based video artists. I thought that overall most of the films spent too long saying too little or were too oblique, but a few of them were interesting.

The first, "Where Time is the Protagonist" by Ilinca Balaban was an 8 minute series of unrelated video mostly of lockers and people bowling and bowling pins and a racecar video game. It was slowly paced, and isolated the objects in the video. It "eschew[ed] formal linear narrative for a more surreal and abstract depiction of imagery culled from the everyday... Human activity is rendered impotent..." Which was visually interesting for about 30 seconds. I spent the first 7 minutes wondering why I was being presented these languid shots of inanimate things, mildly annoyed by Balaban's indifference to me, the viewer. Then in a section of racecar video game the pixelated passenger in the car asks the driver with a speech bubble, "What were you thinking about?" And the driver replies, "I was just trying to figure out where we're going." Which made me reflect on my own mental process while watching the film.

I have recently been evaluating art I see on how it affects me and other viewers/partcipants, as important a metric as formal aesthics and conceptual and cultural significance. By this standard my favorite was "Don't Laugh" by Valerie Boxer, where Valerie, wearing big plastic gorilla teeth admonishes the camera person not to laugh while she eats a banana with the fake teeth. It was funny, especially as she claimed on film to be trying to get into the character of a monkey and the whole banana-eating process didn't go well.

The best was the last film, "Pine" by Ali El-Darsa. The film was moody and out of focus. The cinematography was lovely and functioned well as metaphor. A man comes home to his apartment, through the dark halls of the apartment building. He goes into the bathroom, looks in the mirror. The video comes into focus as he looks at himself, leaning over the counter to the glass, and then out of focus. He takes off his clothes and gets into the bath, and the film cuts to what could be his fantasies: he and another man making out naked. This cut is focused, some bedroom with daylight, with that raw ametuer porn-style of filming. Our protaganist ejeculates and the film cuts to him alone in the dark bathroom, mulling over the sex scene, out of focus. The shots of his face out of focus were especially poigniant. It was pleasant to have such sensical narrative after the "abstract" and "non-linear" films preceding and the content was raw, direct, and human, rather than the obtuse, oblique, removed preceding films such as ""

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