‘Heavy Light’ Challenges Viewers

There is a small trace of the sun on the ocean, visible on the horizon. A lone figure, a small self-portrait of the artist, is the only figure in the landscape. But the sun isn’t about to rise any farther while you’re looking at it. The reason: In John Gerrard’s digital screen installation, “Thousand Year Dawn,” on view at Quint Contemporary Art, you have to take him at his word. The sunrise is reportedly programmed to last a millennium. Medical advances aren’t great enough for any of us to last long enough to prove him right or wrong.

Gerrard’s screen, housed in a tabletop-scale unit, swivels, and as it does, the view of the landscape and the figure alters, too. Even when you don’t move the screen, the sea looks as if it’s gently moving toward the shore. The imagery itself is lacking; it’s on a level with advanced video-game imagery. But his conceptual “frame” is provocative.

“Thousand Year Dawn” is part of “Heavy Light,” a group show featuring video and digital work that challenges the viewer, in seductive ways, to rethink notions about how art uses time. Gerrard’s piece makes this point dramatically, others more subtly.

Lincoln Schatz’s “Me Me You Me” mingles past and present. You become part of its imagery as soon as you walk in the gallery door. It is constantly filming what happens in front of the lens, integrating the new imagery into its stored sights. These clips include events that happened days ago or even weeks ago. (I’m told the work’s memory reaches back eight years from the day it was activated.)

The screen is reasonably large, wall mounted, and never seems to present exactly the same mix of imagery. It mingles locations, as the piece is moved from place to place. It also alters events at times, by running them backward.

Seen one way, Schatz’s work is a narcissistic viewer’s dream come true. It can be your own, ever-changing portrait. But at another level, it casts a wider philosophical net, setting up an intriguing relationship between man and machine, art and life.

Schatz may have created this work, but its imagery moves away from his control. It combines whatever transpires in front of the camera, which is then transformed by software. In a sense, the art becomes its own artist, creating as it goes.

A small-screen piece by Iana Quesnell uses outline drawing, mimicking the motions, as her title tells us, of “Working on the Register at Trader Joe’s.” It is autobiographical, though she gives the activity a comic twist by having the drawn female figure laboring in the nude.

Painting has long been Gary Lang’s primary medium, and “Dividing Time” functions like a painting materializing and dematerializing over the course of 15 minutes. True to his work on canvas, it is an intricate field of interlocking horizontal and vertical lines. The colors are generally bright. The effect, as lines complete themselves, become wider or thinner, move up and down, is hypnotic. It’s as if the work is painting itself over and over again.

By Robert L. Pincus

San Diego Union-Tribune | December 7, 2006

© 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune