Doug Henry and Joe Potts, 2008
Still Life w Dancer is a psychosexual exploration in three-dimensionality across flat surfaces and into extension. Viewer/s in/voluntarily ‘dance’ in/to a still life as s/he/they view digital movies on small digital picture frames.
The video installation, STILL LIFE WITH DANCER coincided with the centennial of the birth of cubism, a movement widely viewed as the first stematic attempt to break down traditional modes of representation.
Just over 100 years ago, cubism was born in the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso. It is possible that this painting was the first salvo in an all-out assault on traditional modes of representation, but a parallel significance was highlighted by the writers of the book: Art Since 1900. In their book the authors identified this painting as an attack on the white, heterosexual, male collector essentially calling him on centuries of stolen pleasure gleaned by voyeuristically gazing at the naked bodies of women who were trapped within flat surfaces and unable to gaze back. This was the first painting to ‘gaze back’ depriving the collector of his privileged position as the one who does the gazing, instead nailing his feet to the floor and turning the spotlight on him, making the viewer in effect the subject.
Doug Henry and Joe Potts installation celebrates the first centennial of the emergence of the viewer as participant. They took as material inspiration the 1966 film: Breakaway by Bruce Conner featuring the choreographer singer/song writer and (in the movie) risqué dancer, Antonia Basilotta (a.k.a. Toni Basil of ‘…oh Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind hey Mickey…’ fame) and hired several dancers to be subjects for a significant portion of their project. By happenstance, only the women were able to make it to the shoot. Also, by happenstance, the camera crew (five people with cameras) was composed entirely of white men.
The videos use the superficial conventions of cubism to produce a sensory overload- not a violent, numbing, barrage (though Joe frequently does that in his audio performances and recordings) but rather just enough to constitute the feeling of too much. Samples are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form. Instead of presenting samples in their original context, they present samples from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the sample in a larger matrix. Often the samples intersect at seemingly random points, removing a coherent sense of conventional space and altering the perception of “the flow of time.” The content and context planes collide, interpenetrating one another to create a disorienting ambiguity.
The implied first person narrative which is the convention of mainstream film and video (“the screen image is equivalent to my eyes“) is abandoned. Instead the viewer is cast adrift in a dense forest of disconnected images, left to grope for directional signs as images fly past; “The screen is equivalent to my brain.” The illusion of a forward progression through time and all that it implies disappears and is replaced by the absolute and ever changing present. The viewer is not passive but neither are they free as they co-create the work with them in an interactive electronic fascism. This time the spotlight is literally turned on the viewers as they unwittingly become dancers in a video still life .
Integral to STILL LIFE WITH DANCER, is a density of imagery achieved by layering or adding together past the point of ‘enough’ to ‘too much’, as determined by the threshold of intelligibility of the discreet elements being added or stacked. The signal to noise ratio is tilted toward noise and the communicative or expressive potential of the work to convey any kind of linear sequence of discreet particulars is overridden by and enduring kind of overallness that is just present. The work remains ‘over, or out, there’ in a way and resists any attempts to be ‘brought in’ or internalized as any kind of description, summary or story. It cannot be ‘read’ so continues to exist outside any conventional sense of ‘meaning’ since none can be extracted from it. It persists in the form of a take it or leave it proposition and, if the choice is ‘leave it’ it comes with an unsettling feeling of doubt (reservation uncertainty) that something is being missed.
Just as century ago cubism served as a harbinger of the effects of technology on culture, video cubism points towards information technology and its effects on the individual within culture. The daily bombardment of images we undergo has become an old story. It’s possible that, in our increasingly post-literate society, scanning media for meaningful content sharpens and enhances our ability to cope with the increasing complexity of the greater world at large. But, as we become more and more active participants in the matrix of information, it may be equally possible that this barrage taxes and finally surpasses our ability to process information at all, resulting in a collapse or implosion of our capacity to make meaningful discriminations and ultimately leaving us in a mental state that parallels constant, looping, multi-leveled channel surfing. Whether these scenarios hold potential for a positive outcome for human beings is yet to be known.