The Second Program

Conduit Gallery

Charissa Terranova

Bill Viola, Six Heads, 2000; single-channel color video; 19 minutes, 41 seconds; courtesy the artist

Luke Murphy, The Longest Painting of Death, 2010; The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) c. 1896 by Albert Pinkham Ryder; 27 ¾ x 35 inches stretched across 1 mile of pixels and traversed in 2 minutes, 11.2 seconds, the average speed of Secretariat; courtesy the artist

Eight video or video-related works coalesced in this “collection” organized by Dallas art writer Charles Dee Mitchell. As the exhibition portion of The Program: Art Beyond the Frame (Dallas’ video art biennial), Mitchell’s Conduit Gallery installation complemented four one-night screenings of art-house videos, underground films and video shorts. In the exhibition press release, Mitchell distances himself from the task of programmer or curator, calling his show “theme-free” and only halfheartedly committing to the “self-evident” topic of “time.” Despite this apparent nonchalance, the presentation at Conduit appears tidy, focused and thematic: a seeming homage to painting.

Mitchell’s presentation relies on classic modernist exhibition tactics. With clean lines and matted frames, The Second Program takes a conventional approach to the gallery’s architecture; all of the works hang or are projected on the wall in simple and straightforward fashion. The exhibition displays video as if it were painting and even contains examples of a literal strain of video-painting: painting that moves. Luke Murphy’s The Longest Painting of Death presents a mid-sized projection of streaming ochre and green lines based on Albert Pinkham Ryder’s painting The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) (1895–1910). Murphy scanned Ryder’s work and stretched the resulting pixelated image to extend over a digital one-mile span. He then created an animation to simulate traversing this image in 2 minutes, 11.2 seconds—the average speed of the U.S. Triple Crown champion Secretariat. Despite such mediated content, Mitchell avoids medium-challenging video forms, such as the floor/wall/ceiling systems of Pipilotti Rist and the scrim projections of Douglas Gordon, opting instead for the quiet, ruminative environment typical to presentations of two-dimensional work.

Two works in particular offer contemplative and poignant experiences in their apparent suspension of time and space. Matthew Day Jackson’s Little Boy and Fat Man (2008) is a two-channel video that shows the atomic bombs dropped, respectively, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As artist-in-residence at MIT, Jackson recorded facsimiles of the bombs inside a campus wind tunnel; in his video they perpetually hover, downward pointing, in midair. David Askevold’s Sixteen Candles (1990–91), a single-channel video projected large and directly on the wall, presents a close-up view of a slowly rotating candelabra with sixteen candles, each of which represents a year of Askevold’s deceased son’s life. With the wrinkly vestiges of VHS (transferred to DVD here), the rippling surface of this dark video lasts just long enough for each candle to melt.

Also featuring candles, though cast in the shape of VHS tapes, Kristin Lucas’ wry contribution delivered the exhibition’s single sculptural element. These works too appear immobile and timeless, that is, until lit. Still, this mutable objecthood presents too small a suggestion of transgressing obvious physical boundaries. Even though Mitchell’s selection reveals conservative enthusiasms for traditional viewing experiences, he is on the correct side of au courant technology. Insofar as Marshall McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message” still reigns true, a certain refrain of technology-based conceptualism abounded in The Second Program, emerging ever so quietly as the chattering of vox ex machina, voices from the machine.

Charissa Terranova is Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas.

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