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Ryan Trecartin, ‘P.opular S.ky (section ish)’, 2009, HD vdeo

The experiential and spatial demands of the moving image are unapologetically amplified by The Power Plant’s concurrent presentation of four solo exhibitions dedicated to film and video as part of Toronto’s 23rd Images Festival. The range of possible approaches to the medium represented in the work of American artists Peter Campus, Sharon Lockhart and Ryan Trecartin, and also Joachim Koester from Denmark, addresses the moving image as both a passive object of contemplation and a means of exceeding its own spatial limitations.

Across the long history of his practice, Peter Campus has explored both these potential conditions in post-disciplinary works that transform the expectations of the medium from the interactive sculptural quality of 1974’s ‘Anamnesis’, to his more recent video works slowed to the pace of painting. ‘Inflections: changes in light and colour around ‘Ponquogue Bay’, 2009, captures views from Long Island slowed down as an abstracted stillness of colour shifting across architectural planes. These formal exercises are accompanied by an ambient soundtrack that is as distanced from these images as the images themselves are removed from Campus’ historical precedent in the adjacent gallery. Where ‘Inflections’ presents discretely detached video-objects, ‘Anamnesis’’ simple configuration of a closed-circuit video camera insidiously draws the viewer into the projected work and questions their agency in the space by a three-second delay that creates a ghostly double of the self trailing every captured action.

A full appreciation of ‘Anamnesis’’ enduring eeriness requires a measure of narcissism insofar as the viewer is compelled to examine the work as an aggrandisement of one’s own image. What can make for an uncomfortable exercise in the context of this venerable work is taken as given in Ryan Trecartin’s densely manipulated interpretations of our aggressively egotistical digital age. Voyeuristic from the inside out, Trecartin’s suite of seven digital videos is populated with characters who self-consciously fiddle with their hair as though to reassure themselves of their own physical existence and court the lens in a transgression of public/private boundaries that approaches a psychological brand of abjection. Among the girls and pseudo-girls proselytising in the gratingly high-pitched whine of audio replayed at speed, ‘copycat’ is a recurring insult hurled between these interconnected worlds through mobile devices, an affront to the unique ego that is impossible to achieve in this realm of infinite imitation. For all the dystopian madness in Trecartin’s work, his world is uncannily middle-class in its aspirations, and distinctly suburban in its strangeness.

Trecartin’s proclaimed status as an art world ‘wünderkind’ is clearly indicated in the excessive space given over to his labyrinthine installation of ‘Any Ever’. Each of the seven lengthy videos is afforded its own room better differentiated by their unique seating arrangements; the airplane seats and beds in particular encourage heightened passivity on the part of the viewer who is anaesthetised into this ceaseless spectacle that, like the Minotaur’s obscuring maze of twisting corridors containing the remains of butchered Athenian youth, offers no clear means of exit.

Ryan Trecartin, 'Sibling Topics (Section A)', 2009, HD video
Ryan Trecartin, ‘Sibling Topics (Section A)’, 2009, HD video

The immersive quality of Trecartin’s elaborate installation tests the limits of one’s attention span, theatrically insisting upon the sort of prolonged engagement that is an understated demand of viewing Sharon Lockhart’s quieter, more considerate work. Similar in duration to any of Trecartin’s frenetic films, ‘Podwórka’ is confidently and monumentally projected within an otherwise empty gallery that offers no distraction to the meditative mind. Lockhart’s fixed camera emphasises the contemplative stillness of this anthropological study, broken only by barking dogs and birdsong. Within these modest, almost derelict settings throughout Lodz, Poland, children flit across the lens in pursuit of idle games that echo the artist’s own refreshing lack of pretence.

If it were possible to cleanly unite these individual exhibitions for their preoccupation with transforming experiential space through the moving image, Joachim Koester’s darkly immersive environment is perhaps the most concise statement of these concerns in one installation. ‘Hypnagogia’ unites the multiple focal points of three films projected onto suspended screens that dance at the edge of consciousness: quite literally in the case of ‘Tarantism’, in which dancers re-enact the symptoms of a wolf spider bite ritualised as a silent dance derived from Southern Italian wedding rites. In this film and its accompaniments rendering cultshamanic gestures and mescaline-induced drawings, Koester enacts a muted tribute to psychodelia reinforced by the encompassing whirr of film projectors filling the dark gallery with disorienting noise. Time is easily and irrevocably lost in a space such as this, where the entranced motions of his film-captured players have neither beginning nor end.

Stephanie Vegh is an artist and writer based in Ontario