Three Seattle art shows mess with your senses
Three Seattle galleries present venturesome sound, light and video work by Ann Lislegaard, Joel S. Kollin and Margot Quan Knight.
Seattle Times arts writer
"Ann Lislegaard: 2062"Sound and video installations by a Danish artist, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, open until 8 p.m. Thursdays, through Aug. 23, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; $6-$10 (206-543-2280 or www.henryart.org).
"Vriti"Sound-and-light instillation by Joel S. Kollin, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, through May 29, Jack Straw New Media Gallery, 4261 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-0919 or www.jackstraw.org).
"Sur face"Video installations by Margot Quan Knight, noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through May 30, 911 Seattle Media Arts Center, 402 Ninth Ave. N., Seattle; free (206-682-6552 or www.911media.org).
May is turning out to be sound-and-video installation month in Seattle. Here's a look at three shows that mess with your sight and senses.
"Ann Lislegaard: 2062"
It's common for science fiction to be adapted for the big screen — but translated into video installations and sound chambers? That's more rare.
Danish artist Ann Lislegaard mostly pulls it off in "Ann Lislegaard: 2062," six works now on show at the Henry Art Gallery. A trio of 3-D digital animations between 8 and 9 feet high — inspired by novels by Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin and the late J.G. Ballard — are the big attractions here.
Lislegaard, in town last month for the opening of the show, spoke of creating visual worlds where there is "no need of gravity, no need of a day being 24 hours." That's especially applicable to "Bellona," a riff on Delany's 1974 epic "Dhalgren," about a Midwestern town slipping free of the usual constraints of time and space.
An 11-minute single-screen loop depicts rooms and corridors where doors aren't doors, walls may be mirrors, and it's just about impossible to get your bearings. The camera "eye" pans steadily through this brightly colored labyrinth of frames and rectangles ... or is it sunlight, moving at accelerated speed, that's triggering these transformations of space? An unnaturally calm female voice periodically intrudes with comments on "an unrecognized place where anything can happen."
In the two-screen, black-and-white "Crystal World," Lislegaard distills the essence of Ballard's 1966 novel, in which West African jungle is steadily transforming itself into a crystalline structure consuming everything in its wake — a process some human victims find as fulfilling as it is annihilative.
Two silent, off-kilter video-feeds — one just under six minutes, the other just over — take 31 hours to go through their full cycle. But 15 minutes with them is enough to pull you into their spell. The crystallization process couldn't feel more natural or inevitable: a flash of light, a surging pulse, a punctuating pause, and jeweled fossilization is achieved.
The three-screen "Left Hand of Darkness," from the Le Guin novel of the same name, goes at a faster pace and includes, for the first time, a human figure — a kerchiefed dancer of neutral gender, reflective of the changeable dual-sexed characters in the book. This figure appears in pencil outline amid a busy palimpsest of other imagery: anatomical drawings, free-floating space debris, densely layered text, abstract spirals. The three video feeds overlap slightly, creating a sense of widescreen movement. A staticky soundtrack — akin to a Geiger counter's percussive stutter — completes the unstable, unsettling effect of the visuals.
The progress from single-screened "Bellona" to three-screened "Left Hand" is absorbing at every stage. The sound installations, taken from science-fiction films, feel gimmicky by contrast. Worst case: an eight-and-a-half-minute condensation of the entire soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" playing in the Henry's elevator. It practically shouts Emperor's New Art Installation.
"Vriti" by Joel S. Kollin
Behind the door you can hear the tense electric hum of Joel S. Kollin's "immersive light/sound installation," inspired by the Sanskrit word for "the vortex or oscillations of the mind that lead to separation from Reality, Nature, or God."
Open the door and the hum goes up several octaves — whoo-oo! Inside, you'll find an empty room where you're the catalyst of anything you hear or see. Each move you make alters the intensity of the hum. Each step you take toward the blue stroboscopic lights at ground level seems to dim their activity.
Sing, clap or whistle and you'll bring up the light level, casting your own flickering silhouette on the walls around you. Using sound-activated light and light-activated sound, Kollin, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington's Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Music, has created quite a little play-space ... one that keeps you chasing after will-o'-the-wisps and shadows.
"Sur face" by Margot Quan Knight
This was supposed to be an exhibit of work by legendary Seattle video artist Gary Hill.
Hill had a conflict, though, and by good fortune the space has been turned over to 911 artist-in-residence Margot Quan Knight. As the punning title suggests, the focus is on the human face as seen through an array of intervening surfaces, including bubbles, glass and mirrors, viewed in silent, minutes-long video loops.
"Bubbles" is especially beguiling. All the "action" is seen through the fragile bubble surfaces that Knight blows into camera-view. The evanescence of the medium and deadpan solemnity of the bubble-reflected Knight, serving as her own model, add up to something both melancholy and magical.
The odd man out of the show is "Are You There?" This wall-projected, darkroom video seems a rectangle of dim, brownish static at first. Sit tight. From the "digital noise" on-screen, the faces of dormant men are fading in and out so subliminally that you can't always tell if an image is coming or going.
Knight reveals her inspiration: "I thought about this piece while lying in bed, unable to see the face next to mine in the dark." She also reveals her image sources — but I'd suggest spending a little time in the dark first. This is striking, mysterious work.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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