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Saturday 03.31.07

« Oddities and Ends | Main | PSU MFA Monday Night Lecture Series • Tonight: Susan Robb »

Matt McCormick at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Still from McCormick's Motor Hotel

It's the last day of Matt McCormick's Future So Bright at Elizabeth Leach Gallery and the show has spurred a lot of private discussions I'd like to air here.

The videos were initially shot on a 16mm hand cranked Bolex and have this wonderful color saturation, but they picked up some artifacts when scanned into digital. The mélange is a kind of purgatory moment in media, mimicking the temporal structures the images depict. At first the digital artifacts bothered me as it obscured the subtle rustling of the grass in front of an old mining building in the single channel video "Western Edge." In other cases the digital artifacts were impossible to distinguish between heat waves in front of an abandoned building. I both liked and felt cheated by the ambiguity. Does this need a higher resolution scan? Would that ruin it? What if the single channel video "Western Edge" were even bigger and shown by itself?

Matt McCormick's Shaniko House [Still from Western Edge] (2007)

What I like about this work is that it is immersive video that straddles the world of contemporary art and documentary filmmaking. In the art world the long takes of structures relate to Warhol's Empire, Fischli/Weiss, Ed Ruscha and Douglas Gordon (think of an elephant as a structure) among others. In film, long takes relate of course to Gus Van Sant and Kubrick etc. McCormick also has made photographic stills which in themselves are aysmptotic takes.

Motor Hotel installation

What is interesting about McCormick's dual channel "Motor Hotel" is how it feels like a slideshow compared to Warhol's Empire. It's more sympathetic too but somehow it lacks its power… maybe if another related 2 channel video (which exist) were in the same room as "Motor Hotel" it would become more immersive, overwhelming and take on some of Warhol's serial power?

The single channel video, "Western Edge" is the stronger of the two pieces in the show. In "Western Edge" the long takes are much longer, the windmills make sounds in the distance and instead of a snse of desolation, the abandoned buildings have the personality of a weathered old prospector whom McCormick is having a staring contest with. The video is also related to the Juddian color treatment in that the structures are bathed in sublime, shifting light that emphasizes their persistence as objects. If one has ever wondered about living off the grid and becoming a squatter somewhere in the American West, McCormick's "Western Edge" has a powerful appeal.

Though fleeting, McCormick's videos of abandoned buildings and signage treat us to a fractured glimpse of this young artist/filmmakers travels, the history of the westward expansion, the Americana of roadside kitsch, the history of moving images and even the history of transportation. It's nostalgia but it's also a kind of celebration that there is still space in America. A weathered America? The sympathetic America? Is it an America where you can still have a gold rush with all the even more interesting opportunities that the end of that gold rush offers? Has McCormick presented us a bust time as a kind of respite from intense commercialization?

In a country where historical awareness is kept to a minimum this dogged lens on the past makes McCormick a kind of conscientious objector to American amnesia (a very Portland stance) but it is a sympathetic objection. Unlike Warhol or Kubrick's work these videos seem to say, there is still gold in dem dar hills, if only one is willing to re-evaluate their needs. This show could have been more immersive with a more massive space but Future So Bright is an auspicious Portland gallery debut, which could be much more fully realized at a place like Dia Beacon or Site Santa Fe.

Motor Hotel installation

I particularly liked how the show tended towards an epicurean philosophy weve seen in earlier works like "Towlines" instead of the more entertaining comedy of his most famous work "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal." The art world can reward both types of fare but it seems like the film world would be more interested in entertainment. Besides that inherent difference in audience, I'd encourage McCormick to pursue the more varied presentation options that video art offers in contrast to theaters. He's in a great position to persue both outlets and it's a strength. Lastly, McCormick's work may be nostalgic but it is very now, as it provides an alternative expanding horizon to the seemingly shrinking American experience. Fitting that the past has such a liberating effect.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on March 31, 2007 at 10:28 | Comments (4)


Unfortunately, I don't live in town and I can't see the show. I am intrigued by the residual minutia on the digital, particularly in relation to the temporality of the images and their presentation as slide show. "We were here" in a manner of speaking. Memory accumulates alot of stuff over time...entropically, that would suggest a gradual slowing down. Wish I could be there!
Btw, did you mean Douglas Gordon?

Posted by: joewbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 1, 2007 08:33 AM

Yes Douglas Gordon... David Gordon is the director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, my old stomping grounds. My apologies its been a busy week (It may suprise some that I dont spend a majority of my time working on PORT). Also, it is incredibly nice to know that PORT's reader's catch such things!

PORT is interested in doing a book sometime in 2008 and I like how our reader's act as copy editors. The book will give us the opportunity to go back and edit some of the earlier reviews too and once we have gone to PORT v. 2.0 we will have copy editing built into the process, especially for long reviews.

As far as seeing the work:

Matt has recieved a lot of curatorial attention lately... Moscow Biennial, Uncertain States of America etc. I suspect you might get the chance to see this work elsewhere soon.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 1, 2007 11:57 AM

Spoke with Matt last night some... the digital artifacts are from the compression to DVD format.

Ideally in the future... he thought using raw uncompressed video on a hard drive will be the best way to go. Many players can accept microdrives but the trick is for it to be uncompressed.. Any 200+gig hard drive could handle these videos. DVD's were really created for tiny home screens (which aren't so tiny any more), not projecting on an entire wall. The "Blueray" format helps but for a situation like this uncompressed video would be ideal.

Ahh technology.... The DVD as a dinosaur makes me feel my age.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2007 10:04 AM

Just saw Paris, Texas a week or so back, which convinced me that Wim Wenders should be a part of the discussion about McCormick's influences. Especially with the additional consideration of the Ry Cooder-like musical accompaniment to the Holocene presentation of Future So Bright. This would also be consistent with JJ's take on Matt's political stance; like Wenders, in love with America and its precarious urban-rural divide, and determined to retrieve the sublimity of that which most of us find commonplace.

Posted by: getfogged [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 3, 2007 10:41 AM

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