Monday, August 18, 2008

A Bit More About Video

As I mentioned, we visited the video program at Conduit Gallery Saturday evening. Here's a schedule of the five-week event. There was a screening of Chinese director/artist Yang Fudong's "An Estranged Paradise," which I failed to connect with except for a few passages of lovely imagery. The beginning of the film, with its disquisition on rules for creating a sense of space in traditional Chinese landscape painting, provided an intellectually stimulating frame for the city landscapes that follow, but an hour or so into the movie it was a tough task to keep painting in mind. Mostly I was reminded of French Nouvelle Vague.

I was engaged in conversation out in the front gallery during the seated presentation of Angerame's "Anaconda Targets" in the back, but I was told the impact was all the stronger for its near-11-minute duration.

My favorite piece of the night was Michael Bell-Smith's "Battleship Potemkin Dance Edit." Bell-Smith re-cut Eisenstein's classic film to a standard house beat dance rhythm. When I first learned of the piece, I wrote one of the curators that the title alone brought back memories of being in a club back in the summer of 1970 and dancing to Crosby Stills and Nash: "Four Dead in
Ohio." Shallow at the core and somehow just wrong, but what's the use of a revolution if you can't dance? And what I imagined of the video suggested a thoughtful take on time -- dance time and cinematic time, as it was conceived by the man who invented montage.

Years ago Peter Halle had a show at the DMA in which he painted two sociological flow charts on the walls next to his paintings. One was a chart of being admitted to prison, the other charted getting into a disco. They looked the same.

But the mechanically regularized pace of Bell-Smith's Potemkin edit was much more than an ironic take on something great from the past or a dry observation on modes of duration and intertextual tempos. The metronome beat -- relentless and industrial and mindless and soulless -- cast the struggles and violence of Eisenstein's work in an entirely irrational universe. Things happened. Sometimes they happened slowly. Sometime quickly. But they only happened. And it became clear that they had to happen.

The organic flow of the original montage was embedded in a moral attitude towards the narrative. Watching Eisenstein's movie, we were invited to judge the unfolding events, and implicit in our very capacity to make a moral judgment about the actions of the characters is the supposition that these events could unfold differently, that the people could behave another way.

The dance edit allows no judgments. Can you judge the ticking of a clock?

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