Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not So Experimental Media Series

Last week I was able to attend the final screening of the WPAs Experimental Media series.

As is the nature with juried shows, the juror looks for quality work and for the work to fit together in a program. What Kelly Gordan assembled for the one-hour program flowed together quite well.

A critical assessment of the individual pieces are not necessary. It would be safe to say that there were some great works, some good works, and a few stinkers that ranged from annoying to stupid. There was also room for a couple pieces that worked in the context of this screening - or within the context of any juried screening - but might not function as stand-alone pieces.

What does remain is a critical assessment of the title of the exhibition. Nothing in that program seemed experimental, and the very nature of the call for entry limited the potential for real experimental media. I had the same opinion a few years back when I saw Paul Roth's curatorial selections.

Some might state that, "by its very nature, video and sound are experimental." And, of course, I can agree that, generally, the work of the artist, as individual, is to experiment with a medium. But that doesn't mean he is establishing a new foundation, or pushing the height of the plateau. He may simply redefine his personal aesthetic and conceptual boundaries for what passes as art.

The whole title for the Experimental Media series is off.

First, Experimentation:
The notion of experimentation evokes the mad scientist. Think Nikola Tesla. Or Doc Brown (Back to the Future). When it comes to video, I can't say for certain that it has all been done before. However, what was on display last week evoked early cinema, montage, Godard, Hollis Frampton, the telenovella, and even Triumph (from Conan O'Brien, though I was actually reminded of MTV Italy's Pets). Not all possible influences have been listed above, and from the list, not all would be direct influences. Some would wallow in the shallow depths of bad analogy. But, none of the aforementioned examples are malapropos.

As for sound, I heard hints of Cage and Paik. Anytime I hear someone play the inside of a piano, I think of Cage.

Next, Media.
The call for entry was limited to video and sound. Media, however, has a much broader boundary which typically encompasses most things electrical, digital, interactive, performative, mechanical, engineered, and otherwise weird. Granted, that broad assessment would allow a spin painting displayed vertically and placed on a rotating whirly -gig to be considered Media Art, provided it was plugged in. So much of media art today seems to rely on the computer and bits of information from the Internet. Yet, no Internet art was available for digestion.

With the call for entry limited to sound and video, the call for entries went one step further by limiting the work to a single projection. Aspiring video wall artists need not apply.

I will accept that opening the boundaries to be more inclusive creates the challenge to find a suitable venue to show all of it. So, when it comes to retitling the series, I'll be willing to meet the judge and jury half way.

Kelly Gordon's comment on this series, and her selection process, was to look for work that feels fresh. She had the daunting task to review approximately 575 works for the series, nearly doubling her annual intake of video and cinema. And some of this work did look fresh. But, that doesn't mean it was experimental.

Perhaps the better title for the series would be Fresh Media. Compilations can be wrapped in butcher's paper.

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