Tradition and technology merge at Glass Curtain's "Bilingual."
The melancholic sounds emanating from a corner of the Glass Curtain Gallery are from the soundtrack to Felix in Exile, a nine-minute animated video by South African artist William Kentridge. It anchors “Bilingual, Art at the Intersection of Painting and Video,” a group show curated by Tracy Marie Taylor, who teaches at Columbia College. Taylor, a painter and video artist, writes in the slim show catalog that the work here “explores the changing role of painting in today’s media-suffused culture.”
Arguably, no one excels at the level of fluency suggested by the exhibition title more than Kentridge, who makes his films by photographing large charcoal drawings that he tacks on the wall and shoots from across a room. After a few frames, Kentridge subtly alters the drawings by adding or erasing lines. These are political videos (with narratives about life under apartheid and colonialism), making them mighty combinations of skill and content.
Given that the piece was created in 1994, it holds a senior position to much of the other work here (on average by about a decade) and has been afforded, rightly so, the largest space to breathe. With sound and music by composer Philip Miller, and haunting vocals by South African jazz singer Tumelo Moloi, it loops throughout the day. The other pieces with sound components are accompanied by a set of headphones, like Chicago artist Scott Wolniak’s visually frenetic The Pond to the Ocean (2006–07), composed of thousands of ink and watercolor drawings, with its gurgling noises.
One needs patience to take in the quiet Still Life at the Speed of Sunrise (2005) by Chicago artist and computer-game programmer Jason Salavon. This seemingly static one-hour-and-20-minute piece takes a grouping of cups and a pitcher through incremental changes in light, color and form.
Liquid Villa (2001), by the recently suicided Jeremy Blake, is less demanding of our attention. Blake referred to his work as time-based painting, and the trippy, color-saturated vertical bands shift and vibrate while sweeping open the screen to geometric abstractions inspired by architecture. Given the tragic and sensationalist nature of this rising art star’s demise, this seems like a good place to pause in silence for a moment.
Chicago artist Wafaa Bilal’s, Absinth Drinker, based on Edgar Degas’s 1875–76 work of the same name where a sullen woman seated in a café looks down at the table, is a video set vertically behind an ornate gold frame. In Bilal’s version, the woman lifts up her head and looks right at us. The simple action is enjoyable enough, but we must quibble with the artist’s (over) statement: “The Absinth Drinker as a commentary on the subjugation of women…the passive woman rises from the position she has retained for centuries to become the active observer. She frees herself from the gender identifying and confining clothing she wears, and transforms into an androgynous human being. By doing so, she breaks the bonds that hold her in a subservient position….” Don’t bother waiting for that to happen.
Brooklyn-based artist Patte Loper’s tween is a wall painting of a billowing, cloudlike treetop that appears to have pushed through the floor. Tween is joined by a video animation of the painting captured in stages of its creation so that it appears to emerge quickly, almost like a stain (along with a suspenseful, monster movie–ish sound component).
Perhaps “Bilingual” signals a new turn for Columbia College, which of late has allowed artist-curators with big ideas to take over its galleries. It also seems to mark an increase in participation with another little school up the road, which has churned out an impressive number of accomplished fine artists over the years. Taylor, along with many of the artists here, is an SAIC graduate. It also bears mentioning that most of the work, if not made by Chicago artists, comes from Chicago galleries and local private collections. (The Kentridge was borrowed from the Museum of Contemporary Art.)
All in all, the 21 artists in the exhibit contribute in their own unique ways to the ideas of the show, which is to say, there are no bloody collisions.
“Bilingual, Art at the Intersection of Painting and Video” is at the Glass Curtain Gallery through January 11.