1.1 / Review

Disintegrations

By Christine Kesler October 19, 2009

Johansson Projects in Oakland recently opened "Disintegrations," a two-person exhibition that might have been more aptly been "Manipulations."  Both artists gather the details of their surroundings and maneuver—or even push—them into the territory of abstraction.  It is not the artists’ and the works’ self-referentiality that makes them so compelling, but rather their derivation from the real, and the resulting fantastical territory they explore to varying results.

Andrew Benson. A Chance Encounter, 2009; video still.

Eponymously framing Andrew Benson’s real-time video installation until every shape has found its city is the quote from the classic Italo Calvino novel Invisible Cities. The passage alludes to the invention and cataloging of forms into systems and spaces—in this case, cities—both recognizable and unrecognizable. With this work particularly, Benson constructs his imagery from the gallery’s space, turning information and motion from the front room into a field of errant, entropic pixels and forms that bend and weave on a wall in the adjacent room. Visitors to the exhibition might briefly see themselves in these fields, but these recognizable glimpses soon give way to waves of confusing uncanny images. What Calvino does so well is create a world where the notion of reality is slippery. Any logic seems constantly at risk of being engulfed by its Other. Benson’s programs likewise render our own images on the verge of transforming into something amorphous and strange, yet hauntingly familiar. The reality depicted is never one that can be grasped for very long.

Benson designs custom software to tell the pixels of his footage how to behave. In a manner similar to Takeshi Murata or Paper Rad, he controls the information collected through live recordings or vintage footage, feeds it through a processing chain on his laptop, and releases it from his programs altered. The resulting video installations are juicy enough and texturally rich. It is difficult to escape the feeling that one is standing in front of the newest Murata. Each artist could use very different programming languages, but recognizing the differences between them are tough for the untrained eye.

While Traveling is compilation of several clips, psychedelically churning with distortions and deformations. The piece is mesmerizing and aesthetically satisfying to watch, but ultimately its content is formed too loosely to be memorable. Benson could take a cue from Murata's formal focus and more considered structure when altering footage, or perhaps look deeper into another Calvino quote in order for his next inventions stand apart: "Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, buried, erased."1

Sébastien 
Lapointe. Tranches (EDGES), 2008; archival print mounted on panel; dimensions variable.

Like Benson, Sèbastien Lapointe sources minutiae from the infinitely catalogued world and abstracts these fragments from their real qualities. He brings slices of his own life into sharp focus with scanned, mounted, and tightly presented images of his record collection. The albums’ threadbare edges stand stark against dark grounds with very little depth, creating virtual slices of information. These photographs are as slick and impersonally alluring as fashion, as if Irving Penn decided to become an obsessively neat DJ, and photograph the objects of his new life. They in fact draw very clear analogies to Lapointe’s other life as a DJ and the artist articulates the intersection between his musical and visual practice through the works’ installation. He crisply and casually leans the photographs against the wall, and creates harmonic color-bleeds onto the wall by painting the opposite sides of each panel in bright shades. However, there is no information given as to how to best enjoy the records, as they remain mute. They seem to interrogate the shifting states between the real and the hyperreal that seem to exist more and more for all of us around our things and in our escapes into leisure. They have successfully become the subject and the object, signifiers for Lapointe and for his version of reality. The artist presents the cold facts of his worn out albums. The rest, along with the devil, is in the details.

"Disintegrations," featuring Andrew Benson and Sébastien
 Lapointe is on view at Johansson Projects in Oakland through November 13, 2009.

Christine Kesler is a Bay Area artist and writer, interested in abstraction as a means of interrogating semiotics and their ambiguities.  Her work explores the poetic and the ephemeral qualities present in the physical environment.  She holds a Masters degree in Painting from California College of the Arts.

Notes

  1. Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1979, p.26. Print.

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