20 February 2011

Thoughts: Misprint Thursday's "White Shirt" and oona Eiren's "Live!"

Due to a server issue, for about a week the video part of Misprint's "White Shirt" wasn't playing correctly. That's now fixed, so if you visited Split Screen recently, you should come again. The video stream is a crucial component of "White Shirt," not least because it incorporates a song that contributes much to the work's effect and meaning. (The Imprudence viewer seems to have difficulty with media, so I advise using another during your visit.)

The resumption of the video stream gave me an opportunity to sit with the work a little. Visually, "White Shirt" is highly layered. Although at first glance the installation is dominated by the huge "mountain" fronted by two enormous shirts (one blue, one white), that wall soon becomes the backdrop to the two rows of white shirts, socks and other clothes hanging from clotheslines. Their shadows play across the water below. Under its soft ripples, the video plays. It also appears on the surfaces of two boxes at clothesline height, with anims of hanging clothes, that track from side to side. The video is of a white shirt, dancing in the hands of someone unseen, often too blurred to be distinct but once in a while coming into focus. When you use the anim, your movements hanging clothes and the movements of the shirt dancing play against each other. From other perspectives the shirts hanging from the clotheslines and others hanging free in mid-air create other layers of shirt imagery.

Multiple visual layers do not of themselves make an artwork compelling, of course, although in this case they tell us something about "White Shirt." It has multiple layers of artistic significance as well. One is almost a layer of insignificance: clothes hanging on a line to dry; someone outside hanging them. The quintessence of the quotidian, an image seen perhaps as long as clothes have been washed -- thousands of years, thousands of cultures. Yet the clothes are hanging precariously over the water; if a shirt or sock slips loose, it will have to be washed and dried all over again (if it can be retrieved at all). More, the person hanging clothes is stereotypically a woman, as the keeper of domesticity. The song of course is sung by a woman (performed by Misprint herself -- a true "triple threat" as visual artist, singer/songwriter, and videographer), and its lyrics bring domesticity and sexual desire into close yet troubling contact. "I feel good I feel fine," the character sings, "I'm so strung out on your line / I feel clean I feel bright / Put me on tonight." Strung out, she seems addicted to the subject of her desire, yet abjectly desiring only to be his white shirt. "I know you don't need me / But I know you still want me / Amongst your other fine shirts." In an act of reification (as Misprint terms it), the character identifies herself and her passion with the white shirt. One wonders if she herself has been left hanging out to dry. She is the white shirt dancing in the video on the boxes from which one hangs clothes, in front of solitary blue shirt looming over the scene.

oona's retro-futuristic-grunge build "Live!" is visually multi-layered too, but in a very different manner. Like puns, the images play multiple roles. Contained in a gigantic high-fidelity ("hi fi") stereo from the 1950s or 60s are various turntables, televisions, vacuum tubes perhaps from some dismembered radio, speakers, and other early electronic items, all at wildly mismatched scales. It is also a city -- and yet, in another radical warp of scale, the buildings' walls are circuit boards. All of this is skewed further by the fact that, with just a few exceptions, everything dwarfs the visitor.

Along with the juxtapositions of scale are juxtapositions of time. Gracing a few of the walls are animated photos of Elsa Lancaster as the eponymous character of the 1935 film, The Bride of Frankenstein. (If you hunt around, you'll discover a wooden slab on which she might have been electrocuted into life.) But turn on the music stream, and you'll hear a piece by oona's group, The Gift Collection, which is very much of the late 20th or early 21st century -- 60s experimental music in a return to life. (Like the Bride of Frankenstein herself?) The city itself, corroded and dirty, is showing its age. The speakers-cum-water towers are somehow simultaneously celebratory, dystopian, quaint, and fun. (You can play with the sounds the make by using their menus.) As Yogi Berra once said, "The future ain't what it used to be."

"Live!" is scarcely somber: it's nearly impossible to visit and not smile. It's a kick to tumble into this mishmash of the past and jumble of proportion. Yet it's not just a romp into the early world of commercial electronics, but I think more specifically into the world of the media of art and entertainment. Now that "hi fi" has given way to "high def," it's worth remembering that someday, our own media will be soooooo early 21st century.

"White Shirt" and "Live!" close on 28 Feb, so if you haven't seen it yet, now is the time! Split Screen will be closed in March to the public while the next pair of artists create new installations, to be on view during April.

Artists interested in working at Split Screen are, as always, welcome to contact me.

Although it's now long past, I'd like to thank everyone who came to the party at Split Screen on the 6th. Our DJ Isabelle Mavendorf took us on a global tour, eventually everyone was dancing, and only a couple people had too many jello shots. It actually was a party! We might have broken some law. We did close the sim -- we hit 20 avis (the max allowed on homesteads) and Misprint, who was delayed, couldn't get in at first. By the end of the day 47 people had been in Split Screen South, not all of them during the party of course, but certainly the majority.

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