Stride Gallery, Art Gallery of Calgary, and the Alberta College of Art and Design
January 9 through 26
High Performance Rodeo
When she was 15 years old, American video-maker and musician Sadie Benning realized what just about every kid with a video camera realizes at some point video is a cool and inexpensive way to be a star, stage an action battle or document the phenomenon of growing up.
That realization has served Benning well, and she offers a compelling première this month as part of Put On, Stride Gallery and the Art Gallery of Calgarys program of performance and theatricality in video being held in conjunction with One Yellow Rabbits High Performance Rodeo. The exhibition offers works from six international video artists who use the screen as a "practice mirror, vanity prop, and device for staging and gazing," just like 15-year-olds with video cameras do.
The artists themselves or their carefully cast characters sport homemade, cultural and found costumes. They also mimic and mime, explore their bodies and each other. Their works propose a link between theatre and the video medium, resulting in a cross-disciplinary investigation of human relationships and identities.
Bennings work incorporates footage shot on her longtime video companion a Fisher-Price Pixelvision toy camera. Flat is Beautiful chronicles the adolescent foibles of Taylor, a lonely 12-year-old girl. In an opening montage, a basketball court full of gawky youngsters in cardboard masks attempt to interact and play as if going to school isnt humiliating enough.
"Benning adorns her actors in crudely drawn masks that intensify rather than mute the emotional impact," curator Lissa Robinson explains. The mask motif could be a dangerous dramatic cliché, but Benning uses it to great effect, emphasizing Taylors isolation from the other characters and from her own adolescent body. The characteristics of the Pixelvision and 8 mm film contribute to a collage esthetic, and Bennings mix-and-match techniques complicate and enliven the narrative.
In the project room at Stride Gallery, a small security video loops over and over in the claustrophobic darkness. This is Mouth to Mouth, the work of Glasgow collaborators Smith and Stewart, who explore their own interdependence through endurance performances. The viewer peers into the monitor, trying to discern why Stewart is fully dressed yet submerged in a tub full of water. Smiths abnormal breathing function is aided by the submerged Stewart in a symbiotic mouth-to-mouth exercise. The performance examines the parameters of their partnership, pushing the boundaries of intimacy and dependency. For this installment of Put On, a separate space complements the isolation and absurdity of their extreme relationship.
Sock Jams details artist Sandy Plotnikoff putting on his socks but this is a hulking pile of socks. Plotnikoffs feet stand in the clearing, but the rest of his outfit remains unseen. The playful accumulation of striped socks, socks with holes and presumably rotten socks transforms Plotnikoffs feet into "solid, distended masses of fabric."
There is something intrinsically Canadian about socks, but Plotnikoff challenges the wisdom that two pairs are better than one, for what is usually warm and comforting becomes cloying and burdensome with the layering of pair upon pair. The result is an odd yet amusing extension of the body and our codes of dress.
The artists are no longer 15-year-olds in their backyards, but Put On proves that youthful creativity can be stretched a long way with a videocamera.