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Steina's Installations at the Burchfield Penney

Mynd Games

Like the ocean surf that’s thematic in several portions of video artist Steina’s multi-installation exhibit at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, you let the work wash over you. It’s a bit thrilling.

Several installations consist of multi-panel wall projection videos with sound effects. Another consists of multiple live cameras and monitors in ingenious setups capturing quirky changing views of the exhibit environment, including snatches of the observer observing. You get to be on television.

Another transforms a gallery space of flat walls and right-angel corners via digital manipulation into an elliptical/spherical map, in a kind of reverse Mercator process and projection the observer can also get caught into, resulting in a TV instant makeover not necessarily for the better.

Steina is originally from Iceland. One of the multi-panel projections consists of magnificent natural environment imagery from that country. Ocean and river waters that ebb and flow and fall of their own accord and due to repetition effects of the projection procedure. Rugged landscapes (made even more rugged-looking by a telephoto lens view) with shaggy horses (the only animal life amid the monumental landscapes and seascapes and streams) that sometimes magically dissolve from the picture and may as magically reappear. Vast expanses of snow-covered plain extending to sheer rock walls of craggy mountain ranges.

This installation is called Mynd, an Icelandic word cognate ultimately with our word “mind,” but in Icelandic denoting “image,” “picture,” even “photograph.” In Old English, to which Icelandic is closely related, the cognate word suggested “memory,” it is pointed out in an accompanying brief explanatory note. (Our Modern English word “mindful” recalls this basic sense.)

The gallery thoughtfully provides easy chairs—couches—to allow the observer to sit comfortably and let the flood of imagery wash over.

Another multi-panel projections piece is about Japan and its rituals, religious and social, and environment embellished by art and culture more than simply raw natural, among related subject matter. Such as dance. Footage of a modern dance performance, the angular, spasmodic movements of which are augmented by staccato camera work repeats and reverses. A little bit Twyla Tharp, a little bit David Byrne. The religious rituals include perfection raking and rearranging of pebble gravel in a Zen garden, the social include etiquette protocols in public spaces from subways to building elevators. All in all it’s like a travelogue without words. But who needs words, when the video camera tells so much. Overloads with information, actually.

Another wall projection work is about physical transformative forces of extreme heat and extreme pressure. Intimate imagery of furnace processes on metal up to and through a molten condition, and a memorable depiction of slow-motion pressure application to what look like wood beams the size and thickness of railroad ties, causing them to snap like wooden matchsticks.

More surf and sea foam and nature in the raw in a piece called Borealis, on four translucent screens hanging like sheets on a line, inviting the viewer to wander among them, intermittently blocking the projection, participating by silhouette negative. Another piece, consisting of a semicircle of color monitors, depicts Western desert area grandeur to the point of near infinity in terms of space and time, including remains of Pueblo cliff dwellings and gargantuan telescope or other signal reception apparatus.

The most thought-provoking—in the sense of puzzling-—quote by the artist among the written explanatory material: “In video, unlike photography or film, the viewfinder is not necessarily an integral part of the camera…” Is that true? What does it mean?

Steina began her career as a classical musician in Reykjavic, Iceland. Then as a scholarship student at the Prague Conservatory, Czecholslovakia, met then filmmaker, later video artist, Woody Vasulka. They were married in 1964 and moved to New York City, and in 1964 discovered video, and “both of our lives were changed forever,” she says. “It was like falling in love. I never looked back.”

Accompanying the Steina installations are four large, grainy, black-and-white, abstract, manipulated digital prints by Vasulka.

The Steina exhibit is called Involving People Into This Magic. It continues through September 25.

jack foran

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