Raven RainbowJanuary 10, 2011
Raven Rainbow is a two-person show organized by Jasmine Moorhead, director of Krowswork, the media arts gallery in Oakland. While some commercial galleries such as Catharine Clark, in San Francisco, have had a serious ongoing commitment in support of video art, both single-channel and installation, it is rare and a worthy mission for an institution to be completely dedicated to video, photography, and related work. German artist Alexander Binder shows smallish, unframed and un-mounted photographs of creepy goings-on in the woods and similar video. Bay Area artist (via Colombia and Miami) Shalo P reedits found commercial and other footage into twenty- and thirty-minute-long projected pieces.
Moorhead’s curatorial statement references the raven’s mythological role as friend of mankind. In fact, research in the great book The Mind of the Raven, by the ornithologist Bernd Heinrich, indicates that ravens are so intelligent that they team with hunters to indicate where prey is, in the knowledge that they will benefit from the leavings. Thus myth and science converge. Binder is not a scientist, however; he apparently sees himself in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and other bloody-minded fabulists. Using effects that add rainbow fractures to his images of deer, birds, and (pretty cornball) masked and costumed figures in the forest at night, he attempts to reinvigorate a timeworn tradition of occult meaning lurking just beyond the film of everyday reality. One’s patience with the project is torn between appreciation of powerful images such as an all-white owl in snow at night whose reddish brown eyes are the only color in sight, and one’s recollection of twentieth-century history, when the essentialist mythopoetics around notions of primeval purity led to gruesome political ramifications.
Shalo P presents two works, The Raven Suite and The Furnace (both 2010), which are projected pieces in the cut-up tradition, with accompanying found and recycled music. In the smaller of the two rooms, Raven begins with a black-and-white close-up of a sweat-soaked Jacques Brel crooning in French. Soon viewers find themselves in alternating sections of lyrical Beatles-esque music and sounds-to-suffer-in-hell-by, with appropriate, attendant images. The artist works the “figure/ground” tradition with central, usually rounded images, around which flow striped arms and other post-psychedelic imagery. Kaleidoscopic changes with precision editing follow with astronomical and meteorological themes. References to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Flock of Seagulls appear and quickly fade. Dolphins dive. In a few highly effective moments, a small floor monitor comes alive to reiterate what is depicted on the large screen.
In the large room, permanently fitted out eccentrically with rows of pews, a much larger projection follows the form of the previous piece: found footage and juxtaposing found music and sound. Furnace is a bit more narrative, at least at first, with scenes of raucous crowds and a giant puppet that emanate a sense of chaos and impending violence. Rapid montage brings us back to alternating quiet and aggressive passages. The challenge when working with well-known or low-end horror footage (Linda Blair makes a brief appearance), or with treacly Peter Max colors and styles is to transcend the material to make it your own somehow. If all you have to work with is material that is commercially debased, it’s hard to make something that transcends such origins. The master of that, the late Bruce Conner, made films from found materials that thrilled the viewer by revealing the truths to be found in the recycled material, as well as building structures with the original footage that raised ideas beyond anything the found material ever referenced. Shalo P offers us tone poems in spasmodic epiphanies that are at once eye candy, a lament for a world gone wrong, and a celebration of what the world has best to offer: color and light.