Visual Arts - Moving pictures

MOCA GA’s Film/Video show casts a wide net

The Film/Video: Georgia exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia represents a diverse, bordering-on-schizophrenic range of work from 1965 to 2003.

While it’s hard to imagine a contemporary exhibition space launching a show devoted simply to sculpture or painting with the same range of time periods and styles, video is looked upon in the arts community as some kind of esoteric niche that allows for such an all-encompassing approach. That desire to lump this disparate array of material under the catch-all topic of video/film makes the show feel unfocused and out of touch with trends in the genre.

There has been radical growth in the Atlanta film and video communities and a wealth of material from which to choose. That makes it all the more frustrating that MOCA GA’s show features many of the same regional video artists circulated time and time again on the Atlanta gallery scene.

The entrance to the show features two works centered on formal considerations of the medium. Robin Bernat’s DVD transfer from Super 8 weaves together home movies of small children and more contemporary-looking landscapes to create a moody bridge between past and present with the artist’s usual romantic, literary underpinnings. The TV monitor on which the work is shown has been placed on a high wooden pedestal, which gives it a sense of grandiosity, but also suggests an effort to make the film itself an object.

Joe Peragine is the rare local artist who takes his technological material seriously, rather than simply trying to insert it awkwardly into the art world context (though his prints of film stills can suggest he is still trying to make film salable in the art world). His previous sculptures and paintings have always been about confronting mortality. Now Peragine uses the specific apparatus of DVD animation to continue that investigation. The artist centers the work on how TV, film and pop culture deal with the fear of death.

Peragine’s five short, animated DVDs on display investigate the very nature of what constitutes entertainment and whether we turn to things like movies and TV for escape or to confront our deepest fears. The common thread in Peragine’s work is his investigation into why we turn to televised images of death, from the national obsession with watching footage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers to films like The Ice Storm and Short Cuts, which deal with the death of a child. The work, from 2001-2003, is a powerful reminder of how an artist can still remain true to his original artistic impulses, while moving into a new medium.

If Peragine questions what we look to TV and movie images for, Sara Hornbacher’s highly technical work circles back to ask questions about the art world. In many ways her work seems to argue that video can be just as rigorously intellectual as anything in the conventional milieus of painting or sculpture, but she puts an ironic frame around that contention. In “Frames of Reference” the artist presents four DVDs of sculptural work by Katarina Fritsch and Fred Wilson and gives them fancy gilt frames, in some ways pointing to what the viewer requires to accept video as legitimate art. She uses her camera to force a more rigorous contemplation of static objects, both mimicking the scrupulous attentiveness of the human eye and extending it into a marathon artistic exercise.

Like Hornbacher, William Brown uses his viewing apparatus to comment on what we see, though his tactics can seem heavy-handed. In his “Device for Instilling Politically Correct Attitudes,” the viewer sits inside a wooden box suggesting an old-fashioned photo booth and watches a film weaving creaky propaganda films, CNN news footage and images of a George Bush action figure that pillories Americans led blindly to Follow Their Leader into ventures like Afghanistan and Iraq.

While artists like Hornbacher, Brown and Peragine delve into the conceptual possibilities of their chosen media and illustrate why it often makes sense to show video and film in an art world context, other works in the show seem badly translated to the museum setting. Rather than standing alone as single, unique works for contemplation, they run together into a non sequitur mini-film festival. While there is nothing essentially wrong with showing documentary films and more conceptual video works in the same show, it would have been nice if the work either had some element in common or conveyed something of the breadth and depth of work in those areas. Regional filmmakers have, for instance, excelled at documentary, but the two short documentary pieces in Film/Video give no sense of that genre’s centrality for Georgia artists.

A small screening room set up in the art space features three films by Fred Padula (with camerawork by Ed Spriggs), George King and James Herbert. Each interesting in their own way, shown together they become a mismatched treatment of religious fervor, Southern kitsch and an experimental love story. They seem grouped together simply because the filmmakers had no specific preferences regarding exhibition, and the results are lamentable.