Channel surfing

Panoptic Mind a video smorgasbord at Eyedrum

A cast of local and national video artists offer a high standard of video work in the Eyedrum group show The Panoptic Mind: Untitled. The works, curated by Sloane Robinson and Robert Cheatham, are too diverse to lump under a common theme or idea, which is why the organizers seem to have chosen the all-inclusive term "panoptic," meaning "a comprehensive or panoramic view."
An artist who samples from our culture (and throws it back in our faces) is local artist Oliver Smith, one of the more progressive, imaginative forces on the local video scene. Smith's hypnotic interplay of found footage and electronic distortion always manages to send the creepy-meter soaring as he takes familiar images, hones in, slows down and manipulates them into a nightmare dreamscape.
A segment of Joe Pesci stomping the bejesus out of a fellow goodfella in Scorsese's film is mixed with a techno-frantic montage of commercials, TV and news footage paced to the blink of an eye. With violent action slowed down into a grotesque spectacle, or the process of editing used to create an adrenaline-rush of violent sensation, Smith returns again and again to an idea of assault in this video omnibus.
Smith's work is as mesmeric and seductive in its own way as any TV program that renders human flesh into inert spud. Another Panoptic artist who exploits the narcotic effects of imagery is L.A. artist Jedediah Caesar's kinetic sculpture of an opaque white cube in which a constant stream of fireworks is detonated, ricocheting inside the box with the fury of a caged animal. The confined pyrotechnic display is accompanied by the piercing shriek of the dying projectiles as they encounter the limits of their environment. The work is hilarious, yet resonant, offering an apt metaphor for television's tendency to reduce the spectacular to the stunted and stupid.
Caesar's clever, pitifully reduced spectacle is oddly connected to another work in the show, Atlanta artist Richard Gess' "From the Blue." In this "haiku-video," shots of infinite blue sky are placed against phrases that speak to human limitations. Another kind of fireworks, human ego and desire, crash against the confining ceiling of Gess' subtly taunting, sadistic pronouncements, such as "Nature does not regard you as important" and "It makes you feel like you want to die."
And speaking of death, the Amazing Lizardos (locals Cecelia Kane and Mitch Lindsey) have created a dramatically creepy — if a little overstated — ambient video installation for Panoptic, a treatise on and an evocation of death with a "you are there" feel.
The work is viewed from within a narrow chamber draped with a black curtain — a kind of reverse-womb that leads back into creation's black hole. At the end of this subterranean passageway is a pit of dirt whose rich, moist smell provides the perfect sensory accompaniment to the piece, along with the swish of water in pipes running throughout the arts space and the sounds of footfalls overhead. Making a link between decay in our material world and in our own bodies, the piece juxtaposes an old woman with a hacking cough, piles of garbage and the neon pink crosses of a god-fearing, death-cognizant church.
Another piece that thinks "outside the box" (and beyond the 27-inch screen) and continues the theme of confinement is Miami artist Alette Simmons-Jimenez's piece "Pools of Thought," a piece with more presentation value than conceptual thrust. Projected into a black rubber kiddie pool circled by the carny's mantra, "round and round she goes, where she stops nobody knows," a female swimmer endlessly strokes within the tiny parameters of the small pool.
In a show where the emphasis is on experimentation in the face of television's inherently confining parameters, several pieces stick out for their use of old-fashioned narrative. Rhys Daunic's "Callahan" is a depressing eight minutes in the life of what looks like a terminal alcoholic. Nursing a drink and a cigarillo, the bleary, potato-paunchy, marble-mouthed Callahan — whose Weegee-esque flash-burned eyeballs give him the appearance of something hatched from the Amazing Lizardos' tomb — recounts what could be an explanation for his bar-stool purgatory: a beat as an ambulance driver and what he's seen on Manhattan's mean streets, which may be truth, or the half-sampled remembrances of a trip to the movies.
Daunic's hard-to-shake vision of a man's personal dead-end is answered by a more lyrical but just as weighty film, University of Maryland professor Lisa Moren's "la_alma," which interweaves text, book illustrations and street scenes as a daughter recalls her grandmother Alma. The duality of many domesticated women's lives is explored by deference to Alma, who had the ability to hold her family together, even as she functioned as an enigma in her own family.
There is enough variety in The Panoptic Mind to appeal to video art newcomers and habitues alike. Encouraging its viewers to wander through its many banks of televisions in a kind of physical channel-surfing, the display may be overwhelming to some but should offer the equivalent of a satisfying smorgasbord to others.
The Panoptic Mind: Untitled runs through Jan. 27 at Eyedrum, 253 Trinity Ave. Wed. noon-5 pm; Fri.-Sat. 9 p.m.-midnight; and by appointment. 404-522-0655.

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