You may have noticed the ridiculous way I signed off on my introduction. Particularly the sentence concerning the myriad identities and hats I wear at various times, for various people. All of these things are true. But was also meant as a parody of the descriptions contemporary art often uses to sell itself. In the saturated marketplace of postpostmodern ‘high’ culture production, delighting in the confusion of signs and their weight, many turn to either grandiose or intentionally mysterious self-presentations. How many of those identities do you think I inhabit to pay my rent?
It is with this in mind that I turn to a description of the evenings presentation: ‘Special Effect’ by Peter Burr. “SPECIAL EFFECT takes a journey to “The Zone”, an off-limits place of hope and possibility rumored to make ones deepest desires come true. With laser beams, green screens, and a live webcam Burr acts as our guide and TV host, collaging live happening with animation experience.” The substance of the presentation is 18 films put out by underground cartoon label Cartune Xpres, which I gather is run by Burr but compiles the work of video artists worldwide. His own work under the name Holliganship, including several music videos, is a good example of the surreal and irreverent style that seems to be a popular approach in video art today:
I actually really like this. On a basic level I find it compelling. But it leaves so many questions unanswered. Who is Donald Trumpet and why does he approach the hidden pizza god? Should I just pay attention to the images and appreciate them in the sense of craft, or expect conceptual continuity from the content? Littering your work with nonsense signifiers seems to have become an end in itself in many circles. As someone who has been labeled a noise musician, I am considered by many outside a select audience to be guilty of creating contentless art. Abstract to the point of deliberate alienation of.. or even aggression against.. the audience. At times I would certainly agree. Sometimes a talented presenter can tie together the elements presented in a way that suggests a depth beyond the content itself. Much like the cut-up painting and writing of Bryon Gyson and William S. Burroughs, the viewer or reader perceives a depth to the image or story personal to oneself, synthesized from the elements provided.
I arrived a little late to “Special Effect”, after seeing Aaron Dilloway play at the YU, and the effect upon arrival was striking. It was my first visit to Con-Way. Going from one massive upscale warehouse conversion venue to another was unusual for me. My path on a busy night among multiple events in Portland’s experimental music scene usually took me on a bike ride between two or three basements in ne, perhaps a trip se, or downtown to one of the Everett lofts. Knowing a little bit about the infrastructure it takes to run places like this, I was impressed. As much as I loved the school venue from years past– with the free full moon Gang Gang Dance show coming immediately to mind– it is exciting to see an interesting professionally run space have such expanse. I’ll be looking to see what else finds itself there in the future.
As I walk in I see someone on stage miming speaking into a microphone, which is given the trademark “Twin Peaks Black Lodge” vocal effect treatment and subtitled on the screen above. It is by implication an unsettling narrative, but one with mostly impenetrable elements. We have no sense of who these characters are, or why, or what. They drift through various digital environments (more on that later), and corresponding textures are sometimes presented in for instance his outfit or the tent on stage, which he goes to hide in when more content heavy selections are playing. Fog came from ample fog machines, and several green lasers pointed into the sky giving the stage a kind of campy sci-fi style. I must admit that I never really got from the performance aspect of the program any insight into the rest of the work. Mr. Burr seems to be a very talented complier of strange video that may not otherwise see the light of day, but as for the presentation I could take it or leave it.
Occasionally we would get a snippet of a brilliant Russian (?) cartoon in a style immediately reminiscent of the movie Heavy Metal. Scientists on an alien planet with hostile inhabitants and psychedelic carnivorous plants having hilarious post-Marxist dialogues with each other while emotionlessly blasting little flying beasties. I could have watched that for hours. I need to know who did that, and where I can watch it again.
The rest of the videos presented were interesting enough, and I found myself in and out of being absorbed by and bored by the impenetrable narrative structure that intended to link them together. Other than the previously mentioned Russian video, they were all in a style I immediately associate with a video from my childhood called ‘Beyond the Minds Eye’, an early example of digital animation. Others mentioned Paperrad as an immediate reference. Many of the fragments seemed, if by design or execution, half-finished. This may be due to the toolkit and time afforded ‘underground’ artists, as polished animation is usually a sign of legitimate commercial funding. As a result too often I am left looking at something which could have been a lost level of a 90’s era video game.. a surreal easter egg left by a clever programmer as a gag. Both the equipment to produce it, and the time it takes to make it is at a premium. While I loved the mysterious Russian psychedelic sci-fi masterpiece woven throughout the confusing narratives of figures moving in impossible digital landscapes, I was left perplexed by what I had seen. But not dismissive.
Next up, after far too long of a delay, was MHSR. I have seen them perform a number of times but never in such a evolved context. Centered around a light table and an array of homemade light sensitive electronic devices, the movement and relationship of body-mounted diode determined a number of the sound elements. Different sets of lights blinking on and off at various rates connect with audible oscillations encouraging synesthesia. At one point Brenna took us on a journey of a virtual world she had created. A castle of light patterns filled with spinning impossible sculptures is explored from a first-person perspective, again in a way reminiscent of the act of a rebellious or perhaps LSD inspired game designer.
E*Rock ended the night in a pleasing combination of dance beats and visual overload. Although by that point I was so tired and hungry I had to retire outside and wait for my ride to finish socializing. Full review of the delicious late night snacks on offer at the Works space forthcoming!