Video vanguard 

Local video artists explore 'the medium of the moment'

Video art has been gaining a new prominence in the art world in recent years thanks to the contributions of a fresh crop of high profile artists like Sam Taylor-Wood, Jane and Louise Wilson, Tony Oursler and the renewed contributions of established artists like Rodney Graham, Bill Viola and Stan Douglas. The meteoric rise of art-film superstar Matthew Barney and the prominence of critically lauded video work by Doug Aitken and Shirin Neshat in this year's Whitney Museum's Biennial 2000 have also bolstered what critic Jerry Saltz calls "the medium of the moment." In Atlanta a small movement in video art is also gaining a foothold, as such prominent commercial galleries as Fay Gold Gallery, Vaknin-Schwartz, Solomon Projects, non-profits like the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and smaller alternative spaces like eyedrum exhibit local artists' work. This increase in the number of art spaces willing to devote shows to video -- a medium difficult to make into an art commodity -- has been complemented by the increased accessibility of digital video cameras and computer editing systems. As regional art schools such as the Atlanta College of Art and the Savannah College of Art and Design continue to support ambitious video art programs, there is no doubt that electronic media will continue to exert an influence on the Atlanta art scene.

Following is a run-down of some of the more prominent video artists and also a new wave of emerging talent, who may not make the medium their primary focus but at least acknowledge its current relevance in an image-saturated world by taking camera in hand.

The Pioneer: Sara Hornbacher

Atlanta's preeminent video artist, Sara Hornbacher, has been working for the past 23 years in electronic imaging. An associate professor and video department chair at the Atlanta College of Art, Hornbacher, who studied at the State University of New York-Buffalo with experimental film pioneers Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton, is one of the founding figures in the realm of electronic media. Early video art was seen as a subversive force used by video pioneers who strove to take away the tools of propaganda epitomized by televised images of Vietnam in the '60s. Since those heady early days, Hornbacher's work has shown a profound theoretical commitment to examining how our consciousness has been altered by technology. Just as often her sculptural installations and monumental "immersive installation environments" are characterized by a haunting lyricism in meditations on identity ("Transfigured Time") and creation ("Altered States").

Hornbacher's most recent work "Regarding the Interval" appeared at Agnes Scott's Dalton Gallery. In the conceptually minded "Interval," Hornbacher uses manipulated footage of artist Allan McCollum's abstraction critique "The Surrogates." Hornbacher's use of a pulsating, trance-like strobic effect creates kinetic objects out of McCollum's static paintings, as well as commenting upon the idea of frames: the frames of McCollum's images, of the film frame, and the gallery itself as yet another frame.

The Deconstructionist:

Dan Walsh

At only 23, Dan Walsh has shown a willingness to practice continual innovation in his work, often embracing collaborative projects with other artists as he reaffirms the fixations of his own artwork. Walsh is a recent graduate of New York's Alfred University who came to Atlanta as a visiting artist-in-residence at the Atlanta College of Art.

Perennially deconstructing the insidious forms and motions of visual information often set to an equally fractured, dissonant soundtrack, Walsh breaks apart the component parts of seamless entertainment productions: commercials, weather shows, cheerleading acrobatics. In a manner akin to the cultural sampling of musicians, Walsh isolates, deconstructs and reconfigures found footage in critiques of the endless stream of manufactured realities beamed from television sets. While video artists like Hornbacher often blow their work up to epic scale, Walsh plays consistently down to the humble parameters of his chosen medium, often exhibiting the work on television monitors to comment upon the perpetual brain feed of consumer and televised imagery so fast and furious we barely have time to decipher it.

In his most recent collaboration with artist Cornel Rubino, Walsh offered a witty breakdown of the storytelling arc of a Japanese television commercial, his cleverly appropriated video breaking the commercial's consumer message down to a simple formula: chaos + coffee creamer = contentment.

The Confessor: Robin Bernat

A fixture on the local video scene, Robin Bernat was one of the four Atlanta artists recently selected for the Whitney's Biennial 2000. Bernat's ladylike vignettes of emotional states ranging from confusion to pitiful tears inevitably feature Bernat in the leading role in works the artist says are of "an entirely autobiographical nature." Dancing with an older gray-haired man in "The Dance Lesson" or asleep in her pristine bedroom in "Effortless," Bernat's catalog of autobiographical complaints have emerged over time: a daddy fixation, an interest in familial legacy, an investment in the spiritual properties of the natural world and feminine self-doubt. Not only the artist's presence, but her careful orchestration of music (inevitably Chopin) and objects -- silver trays, vases of white roses, lush gardens decorated with weathered fountains, elegant homes -- give the impression of an artist creating a willful "ambiance" in work that veers toward the confessional, but more often feels like an advertisement of self-perception.

Bernat sees her latest video piece "Heraclitus had a wise word here to say which I forget" as a parodic response to her perception as a self-obsessed artist, positing her usual catalog of lovely home furnishings and close-ups of the artist against a funk soundtrack.

The Collaborators: fascia

In their presentations of live music accompanied by video projections, the collaborative group fascia's works are as much about the experiential as the image itself. Using the site-specific possibilities of the gallery space in presenting their performance-centered combinations of video and music, fascia works to break down the normally passive experience of both film and art spectatorship.

Founded in 1997 by artists Honnie Goode and Todd Kitchens, the fascia collective has since added writer Jeremy Helton. Using a mix of Super 8, sampled 35mm film and digital video, the group employs an equally pastiched, sampled soundtrack.

Blurring the divisions between the music, art and video worlds in site specific performances that collapse all three in the tradition of '60s Happenings and art bands like the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, fascia's most recent work, "Transitions," sets their ambient sound to an abstract, dreamy "travel film," which boils narrative down to two iconic gestures: separation and reunion.

The Stylist: Oliver Smith

An artist who has taken various creative detours into experimental music, graphic design, painting and printmaking, Oliver Smith has recently fixed on video art in a succession of haunting works that often explore the alienation of the modern landscape, rendering the familiar suddenly sci-fi horrific. As with fascia's projects, the disorienting, discordant, alienating effects of the music imbues the work with an eerie disquiet. Though he frequently shoots fresh footage, one of Smith's most powerful recent works, "Scenes from a Scene," is an appropriationist piece that manipulates clips from five films (Nanook of the North, David and Lisa, 1984, Pandora's Box and Persona) slowing them down to a deathly crawl that makes their settings and characters feel like electronic ghosts from some faraway world.

The Newcomers: Candice Bennett / Peter Pachano

Although they have only recently begun to work in video, Bennett and Pachano illustrate why the accessibility of digital video and the added expressive potential of the medium make it a tantalizing new tool for rising artists. A photographer and sculptor who only recently expanded her work into video, Bennett has explored new subject matter such as the hidden, parallel universe of debris that coexists alongside the human in the eight-minute video "A Study: Trash Aesthetics," a succession of construction sites, trash can-lined roads and dumpsters, exhibited in eyedrum's group show "Contemporary Urban Mentalities."

Another photographer who made a tentative foray into video to accompany his color images of male corporate breakdown at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center's 1999 Biennial, Pachano's "Cosmopolitan Mythology" is an exploratory, humorous send-up of a befuddled businessman's catalog of increasingly surreal gestures: posed at the wrong end of an escalator, unable to hold a pay phone firmly in his hand, lost in a downtown office building maze.

Upcoming video events: fascia will screen works at Do It!, a group show at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery opening Oct. 13, 1280 Peachtree St.; and at Matter Of Scale, a group show at the Dalton Galleries at Agnes Scott opening Oct. 26, Dana Fine Arts Building, 141 E. College Ave., Decatur. Oliver Smith will screen a 16mm manipulated film Aug. 5 from 8 p.m.-midnight at Eyedrum, 253 Trinity Ave. Sara Hornbacher's work will screen at the Atlanta College of Art's Faculty Show at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery Aug. 25-Oct. 1, 1280 Peachtree St.; and in The Future Is Now at City Gallery East opening Sept. 12.



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