What I Didn’t See


Last Friday night I was at the opening reception for “Time Arts Continuum” at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. 5th Street.  I confess that I am not a fan of video art, but I was determined to attend the opening because the description of the reception noted it would include “a performance in conjunction with Dean Valadez’s installation.”  A performance?  I had to check this out.  It sounded like performance art to me.

I arrived and (I will go to hell for this) I was not excited by the video work.  I appreciated that the label for Valadez’s piece included the duration of the two paired videos: eight minutes and twelve seconds.  One of the things that bothers me about video art is how you enter the gallery and have no idea how long the piece is and whether you are seeing the beginning, middle, or the end.  I don’t feel I’m being respected.

I kept returning to Valadez’s installation, “I Wish I Were Here II,” waiting for the performance to start.  Impatient (I’ll go to hell for this too), I found Mary Overman, WPCA’s PR/Marketing/ Membership Coordinator.  I asked her whether the performance was over.  She smiled and said the performance was happening and she’d help me figure it out.  She led me back to the the front gallery and suggested I look a bit closer.

As part of the installation, there are two large cardboard boxes.  One is attached to the wall and you see a clothed male human form from the shoulders down hanging from inside it.  On the floor is the other box with two sets of clothed legs sticking out.  Sure enough, one of the shoes was twitching just a bit.  A live guy was inside there.

I’m an idiot; I wouldn’t have figured it out without help.

The show, and Valadez’ installation, is worth seeing, though the two sets of legs sticking out from the box on the floor will both be “fake” now.

Valadez and I have emailed since the opening, and it was refreshing to hear he has conceptual issues with some of today’s video art and wanted to engage non-video audiences.  He wrote, “While my video has an overarching narrative, it also was constructed as a montage so that conversations between video elements can be related to the photographic still images adhered to the wall – in that sense, I sought a balance between ‘video’ art and ‘non-video’ art.”

I learned a new word from Valadez: collocation.  It has to do with a particular arrangement or juxtaposition of elements.  Valadez purposefully repeats imagery from the videos in the installation because “the collocation of like imagery between the video and the photos and the legs is similar to photo or painting installs and thus deal with visual rhyme.”

I am also impressed with Valadez’ sensitivity about video monitors in gallery spaces.  “I often times find myself bored with videos that simply have monitors setup without interacting with the gallery space or that don’t activate that third space – the intangible atmosphere that circumnavigates itself around the viewer, “ he emailed.  This is an issue for me too.  I hate TV in the fairly comprehensive Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander, kind of way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Arguments_for_the_Elimination_of_Television

It is troubling for me to think about there being “art” on monitors.  By being on a monitor, I question whether it is art.

For a full preview of “Time Arts Continuum,” check out this story by Judith Ann Moriarty on Third Coast Digest: http://thirdcoastdigest.com/2012/05/time-arts-continuum-at-walkers-point/

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    May 26, 2012 @ 14:11:58

    Pegi, you are an essential part of Milwaukee’s art community and the most active and staunch supporter of performance in this city. It is for these reasons that I feel the need to respond to your post. I’m disappointed that you are questioning whether art on monitors is really art at all. This is a troubling attitude, considering the importance of film and especially, video, to the history of performance art. Would you cleave the career of Marina Abramovic, just to give one out of numerous examples, in two? To give another example, an image on a canvas is art, but a similar image on a monitor is not art (this reminds me of arguments against photography as an artistic practice, arguments that have now fallen out of favor). Early video art, in particular, was developed as a direct challenge to television, not as a capitulation to it.

    Your comment concerning video art’s disrespect of the viewer (or, you personally) confounds me. First of all, except under poor curatorial circumstances, art that loops on a monitor was created for that format. It’s not that the curator or the artist is concealing the video’s beginning, middle, and end from you; it’s that the video is challenging linear time. It was created for viewers to enter at different points. Imagine a kinetic sculpture. Would you expect the wall text to tell you that it’s on a 15 minute cycle of spinning and then wiggling? Perhaps you would. Then, I would say that your issue is less with a medium than with a particular curatorial/viewing format. Live performance does not always specify a beginning or a duration. Most performance-installations operate in such a fashion. Performers are present when the gallery opens, and viewers can come and go as they please. Street performance is another subtype that often, but certainly not always, doesn’t specify duration. For me, encountering a video installation is, in certain ways, like encountering an action on the street. I probably don’t know how long it’s been going on or how long it will continue, but I can appreciate it as it unfolds in the moment. I can stay to discover it’s rhythms, if I choose. I can return and see how it’s changed. For me–and I warn you, this will get really cheesy–the experience of not knowing how long someone’s been doing something and when s/he will stop is how life is.

    Of course, you don’t have to like this viewing format. We all have our preferences. But perhaps that’s just it. One person may like dance in a theatre, another may prefer outdoor site-specific dance. Our own tastes aren’t enough to justify an argument about whether one format is art and another not.


  2. Pegi Christiansen
    Jun 01, 2012 @ 18:51:56

    Heather, I appreciate you taking time to comment.

    As I mention twice, to make sure it is clear, I will go to hell for my antipathy toward most video art. My post focused on a non-video part of the show and let Valadez explain his video.

    Monitors predetermine their use. You are locked in where you can position yourself to see. Without any sense of time, it is very hard to determine just what is unfolding and for what reason. Is this life? Sure, but not the kind of life I want to live.

    Or to put it another way, I love being surprised and to have art transform my understanding, but the indeterminate quality of looped video art on monitors almost always disappoints me. I wait and nothing that matters to me happens. There is something lacking in me.

    The dynamics are different in other gallery/street performance/kinetic art experiences. There is much more freedom to seek meaning.


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