Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Julia Oldham’s video Fish (2004, 1:40 loop), is of a girl (the artist) sticking her face in a fish bowl and blowing bubbles. I think it’s about breathing life into the fish. Without agitation of the water, the fish will breath all the oxygen in the water and then suffocate.

There is a 3 monitor video installation called Rotations. The triple video is about honeybees, and kind of sucks, I feel. It is monochromatic, all yellow, so that is a plus. I think videos having an over all color gives them unity and a certain feel. The way Impersonator is all blacks, grays and whites also gives it a nice visual style (which is echoed in the gray monitors and the white platforms.)

Rotations has a girl (the artist) in a plain dress speeding around on sped up film ala Benny Hill. I had no idea it was about being a bee until she said something at the talking portion of the opening. One of the screens shows the subject kneeling between bottles and flapping her arms very rapidly like bee wings. It makes me laugh because it reminds me of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror where Bart gets his head swapped with that of a fly. The fly keeps flapping his arms (Bart’s body) trying to fly. And this is what the video is like, that ridiculous sort of futility.

Another screen shows the artist speeding around making little pollen piles with her toes. I can’t believe I didn’t realize this was about bees, I must be dense. This piece isn’t all that great and seems caught up in certain trappings of videomaking, but Oldham does have tremendous potential.

The more I think about Fish, the more I think about how good it is. It reminds me of a story which I am going to tell like an old man would.

DIGRESSION: I had biology in high school and we had a project where we broke into groups and all built fish tanks out of pop bottles and jugs. We got little fish and created habitats for them. Then we went home for the weekend and when we came back, all the fish were did. The only fish that lived were the fish of this kid who blew bubbles into the water everyday that week for twenty minutes. The teacher knew it would happen and didn’t say anything in order to teach us a lesson. The lesson was that life is cruel and you might die a slow painful death for reasons you are unaware of and are outside of your understanding. And now when I see fish bowls I think that someone had better start agitating that water and get some air to those fish.
You could say that Fish is about how human intervention isn’t all bad. After all, without the human blowing bubbles, the fish would die.

I also think of the fish bowl only filled with water that my friend used to keep on the kitchen counter. It turns out it used to contain the cat’s best friend, and when the fish died and they took away the bowl, the cat got very sad. So they filled it with water and put it back on the counter so the cat could go on living.

I think that that is much more interesting than making sped up videos of endurance performances of yourself as a bee. But it’s not as interesting as a video of a cat running around an empty room, being chased by a camera, looking for a place to hide and smelling dogs everywhere.

Again, it is format and length which makes this show so successful. With these concise ideas, the viewer can watch the pieces several times and ponder them. The minds is free to explore the trains of thought these videos start. And the setting of the 3Arts Club, a Victorian building with a long-standing history is a wonderful place to stage new media art made within the last year. It just seems so right.

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