|February 2, 2005
Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456 or
An exhibit of contemporary artist’s videos titled “About Face” is on display in California State University, Bakersfield’s Todd Madigan Gallery. The show, which opened Jan. 14, runs through Feb. 26, and includes seven works spanning five decades.
Since the early 1960s contemporary artists in the United States and Europe have been experimenting with film and video. Many artists coming of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s specifically honed in on this newly accessible medium. Pioneers working with video and film at that time included California artists John Baldessari, Bruce Nauman, Chris Burden, and Ed Ruscha to name a few. At the same time in New York, artists such as Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, Vito Acconci, and Hannah Wilke were also testing this new tool. The New York artists, like the Californians, were filming themselves for the first time and actually becoming the artwork.
In 1965, when Sony made the first non-industry video camera, artists, like cameramen from television, could work in real time with real people. They could later contextualize and manipulate the homemade images in the editing room. Artists saw in this seductive medium a direct way to document their activities both in and out of the studio. They could engage in fantasy, role-playing and assume different personas. Now 40 years later, video is as ubiquitous as painting and sculpture in many exhibitions and art school curriculums around the world.
“About Face” is an attempt to illustrate the “about face” that these artists took many years ago when they turned away from traditional materials. The show is also about the human face, one of the clearest visual ports to human understanding. Each artist in the show uses their face and their body to explore different personal, social or psychological issues.
The earliest piece in the show is Bruce Nauman’s “From Flesh to White to Black to Flesh,” 1968. A follow-up to an earlier work called Art Make-Up, Nauman colors his face with white paint then black paint then wipes it off. This seminal study of “self as object” lets the viewer consider what constitutes a work of art, what is make-up for, what role does color/race play in our perceptions of people?
In Vito Acconci’s “Three Adaptation Studies,”1970, Acconci positions himself in front of the camera and uses balls, soap and his own fist as stand-ins for the classic protagonist putting a new twist on “being your own worst enemy.”
Dara Birnbaum’s “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman,” 1978-79, is a classic ’70s feminist critique. Appropriating footage from the TV series “Wonder Woman,” Birnbaum uses technology to suspend the title character in her state of metamorphosis changing from “regular” woman to superhero.
In “She’s Not a Girl Who Misses Much,” 1986, Pipilotti Rist performs to a Beatles song, speeding up and slowing down the song and the film while also blurring the image with special effects. She suspends herself, like Birnbaum, in this state which is at once manic and laconic.
Lars Kremer’s “Anatomy Lessons,”1993, questions one’s position literally and metaphorically as a young artist in the history of art. Kremer, dressed in boxer shorts, tries with painstaking effort to fit his body into on-screen outlines of poses from great masters anatomy drawings. Once his body does sync up with the drawing he holds the position as long as he can before attempting the next pose.
Rico Gatson’s “Two Heads In a Box,”1993, is a compelling and exhausting endurance test for the artist. Gatson inverts the racial stereotype made popular by the white American singer Al Jolson who performed in blackface during the 1920s and ’30s. Gatson has painted whiteface on his own black face. Adorned with a white smile and a cardboard tie, he tirelessly sings the lyrics to “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” For 30 minutes he sings this over and over until his exhaustion is visible and the viewer can’t help but reflect on how exhausting this long fight for equal rights must be for African Americans.
Finally, Lorna Simpson’s piece “Easy to Remember,” 2001, culminates the show with a message similar to Gatson's. Filmed in black-and-white and laid out in a grid, the piece is comprised of 15 African-American mouths, each filmed separately, humming the same song. Simpson interviewed several actors for this piece and selected these people to hum along to the John Coltrane’s rendition of Rogers and Harts song “Easy to Remember.” The quiet, steady sound persists as the individuals work independently yet together towards this common goal of humming this song, of being heard, of remembering. Simpson, when talking about the piece, says she tries to visually simplify the image and let the sound give the work it’s meaning.
Gallery hours for “About Face” are Tuesdays through Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m., and Saturdays 1 to 4 p.m. For more information or images please call the gallery at (661) 664-2238. Admission is free.