Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Resist: Inauguration at Una Gallery
Early February links
First Thursday Picks February 2017
Dead tree media & dead horse flogging news
Post Snowpocalypse Weekend Picks
More Disjecta'd
New Year opportunities
Monday Integrity Links
First Thursday Picks January 2017
Jason Berlin + Alanna Risse at Rainmaker
Saying goodby to 2016
Mid December Links

recent comments

Double J
rebeccasylvester
Modou

categories

 

Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Essays
Interviews
News
Openings & Events
Photoblogs
Reviews
Video
Links
About PORT

regular contributors

 

Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman

archives

 

Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us

 

Contact us

search

 


syndicate

 

Atom
RSS

powered by

 

Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a

 

Creative Commons License

Saturday 05.09.09

« Art Beat Week | Main | educational »

Stephen Slappe's Shelter in Place at NAAU

Slappe_satellite.jpg

The latest Couture series show at NAAU, Stephen Slappe's Shelter in Place, is the first fully linear visual narrative exhibition in the series thus far, mixing sci fi, young love and indie culture laced with 80's style media induced paranoia. Thus, it makes a huge investment in its own anachronism at a time when a great many other artists are also fetishing the 1980's to the nth degree. Frankly, I'm not convinced that part is successful but it provides some guilty pleasures. It also points out how the 8 years of constant alert under G.W. Bush wasn't all that unique compared to the Regan era (or Kennedy with the Cuban missile crisis for that matter). Do we really need to revisit the Bush or Regan era though? …and if so what insight is gained? More promisingly, Slappe's piece may suggest the issue of constant civic hysteria might be just as much the media's fault as the leader's.

Slappe_Soviet.jpg

Inside the gallery viewers will find an 80's style boom box by itself then a 3 channel video room outfitted with surround sound. The room contains two walls that serve as screens and a floor based topographical model of a West Virginia river valley, which also serves as a screen of sorts.

That topographical model acts as both a real and metaphorical barrier between the two screens and the effect is a touch like Tony Oursler, especially when the two main characters faces float on it at the end of the piece. Still, it is considerably more passive than Oursler's engaging characters. Instead, most of the time it acts as a schematic or bridge between the wall-based video content. Yet, it was my favorite part making me feel a little bit like I was walking through a video arcade. Despite that it still it felt underused as if no-one were playing those games and was waiting for someone to put a quarter in it.

For context, the piece differs significantly from Slappe's previous works like Crossroads (currently on view at the Art Gym) in that the work isn't a focused study on spatial relations in a genre like car flicks, sci fi or vampire movies as he has done quite successfully in the past. Instead, it presents a loosely coherent story with some character development and a string of events. In short this is like a short film, except it is presented a bit like home-theater in the round.

Slappe_fall_out_boy.jpg

Here's a summary:

If one begins the viewing in the "proper" sequence we are greeted by a shimmering view of the topographical floor element. Water like waves (or are they broadcast transmissions?) flow over the hills and valley. On the two facing vertical walls we are bombarded by images and sounds from the old Soviet Union, Ronald Regan and eventually images of the Bhopal India chemical leak. Alarms sound and a satellite which crosses from one vertical wall to the next beams red waves across the topographical valley spawning two red spiral zones…which continue to radiate throwing circular waves (similar to the satellite's).

Eventually two rooms appear on the vertical walls; one a boy's …another a girl's. Soon the two characters appear, watch a little doomsday style 80's news television then they begin to listen to some punk records and read comics in existential reverie. Then they pick up their old land line style phones and somehow share these sub cultural interests with one another mimicking today's smart phone media features. Eventually their heads become disembodied (signifying their growing consciousness of a different media and therefore world) and float onto the topographical floor space where the projected river separating them disappears and the eventually lay naked (having gotten their bodies back) next to one another in way that reminds me a little of Bill Viola.

Problem is I often find Bill Viola's imagery and storytelling to be overly saccharine, too melodramatic and forced. Slappe here has distinctly more indie aesthetic and except for the alarms at the beginning, the piece is hardly melodramatic. The problem is, unlike his earlier pieces like Crossroads, which all relied heavily on the incidental but important spatial cues and details the story becomes the key. Sadly it just isn't that great of a story, it isn't bad either… and it reminds me of comic books, even the OK ones are usually page turners.

Slappe_naked_Boy_Girl.jpg

Here is where this becomes a movie review:

First off, all of the 80's references like Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union feel underdeveloped. Instead of really serving the plot they simply establish a time period when they could have done much more. Instead the footage is trafficking purely in received meaning rather than engage the viewer to develop it as a parallel world. Even the movie version of The Watchmen kept references to politicians and pundits slightly twisted (like Nixon as president in the 80's).

Second, there isn't any real character development; the boy and girl end up together because they are the only characters in the story. I just don't feel any connection to them even though I've played some of these same records to friends over the phone lines.

Lastly, I felt like this was a technical junket for video art. And technical elements like the satellite and phones were simply there to tie the various screens together. Actually, I liked the satellite part quite a bit, but by the time we get to the archaic version of media messaging between the phones… the trick felt forced.

Overall, it's a decent show with impressive technical complexity that needed a better screenplay to really take off . Still this is a new direction and adds complexity to Slappe's oeuvre beyond his shorter studies of video genre bon mots and if he can couple the two this will have been a very important show for him... and though I'm critical here it's still a pleasure to watch him progress making the show enjoyable in its ambitions.

Sure, Shelter in Place may lack Slappe's usual snap but as a first foray into long format narrative work it's a good first step that may see him develop into an indie aesthetic Pierre Huyghe...but right now it relies too heavily on borrowed yet underdeveloped inference. Technically and storytelling-wise there is a lot to master here and Shelter in Place lacks the razor sharp acuity of his shorter work, which is less burdened with borrowed detail and is ultimately less narrative work. Those chimerical storytelling skills usually take more than one piece to fully develop and Slappe deserves a credit for setting out on that path for NAAU, even if the piece over-reaches by half.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on May 09, 2009 at 7:09 | Comments (3)


Comments

this show is the best of the year half way through it, and I can call Slappe the most contemporary video artist in the Pacific Northwest.
I saw the show last Saturday and amazed me by the beauty, the delicateness of the clips and sharp edges of the sound . the historical references are well placed in the contemporary context. its George Kuchar revisited with a slight hint on what Ryan Trecartin missed in his homeland pennsylvania.
the ground level absorb the space, take its wave of color salt dunes to a trip with the viewer along the Willamette and its gorges. I personally think that soundtracking daringly Bad Brains showed that Slappe were on the top of his game.
the audacity of the overall act simply beautiful and softly caring.
Chapeau to NAAU for the Couture Series Show.
I am jealous ! I wished I can do the same. that good and pro stuff right there. keep on walking the walk R.A.
Modou

Posted by: Modou [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 11, 2009 07:38 PM

hmm...finally saw this today and I really don't agree with your criticisms at all. I think attacking "the plot" is a bit of a straw man argument with this piece; although it does resemble a short film I think it has very different intentions than a narrative short. It seemed more about playing with the audience's focus and attention in a unique and fun way than it did about working with character and story. Plus it was simply beautiful to look at and listen to, and completely engaging for its entire duration.

Posted by: rebeccasylvester [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 14, 2009 07:58 PM

Great, it's always best to think for yourself (criticism just lays out benchmarks and talking points) and I'm glad you enjoyed the show... I certainly did, but even upon my final viewing last Saturday the piece seemed to fall apart somewhat at the point where the "characters" were introduced. It isn't really the plot either... it's the way it is treated as a 3 channel video piece and the way it all does and doesn't come together. A veteran of narrative work like Renwick or Guth would have handled more succinctly.

Also, technically I didn't attack, I critiqued... which requires me to compare it to best of class video art from related artists like Pierre Huyghe, Tony Oursler or Bill Viola and though it's OK... it's just not on that level because it is still clearly dealing with technical elements (including story development).

It's not that the characters fail outright... it's that they aren't completely successful and the pacing of the piece starts to fall a bit flat once the characters are revealed (then underdeveloped).

Thus, the critique of narrative isn't a straw man argument at all. Rather, it is obvious that narrative is a major part of the piece...otherwise it could be presented non-sequentially (but tellingly it isn't).

Yes, you can enjoy the piece by ignoring that comparatively weaker narrative element, but I don't have that luxury... it's the job of criticism to consider all of the major elements in the evaluation of the piece.

Lastly, if we are thinking about this in terms of international art production "ok" or "partly successful" should not be the final goal.

To date, Crossroads is the most fully realized piece from Stephen (it is excellent, if a bit less complicated) and I hope you got to see it.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 15, 2009 03:53 AM

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?


s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee