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ART REVIEWS : Background Film Footage Brings New Life to Old Views

August 07, 1993|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seeing "Three Locations/Three Points of View" is like going to the movies yet never getting there. It's also a lot like getting so caught up in the background details of a film that you lose sight of the overall story.

At the Santa Monica Museum of Art, these typical failures--of purpose and narration--take perverse, persuasive shape in Bruce and Norman Yonemoto's film-based collaboration with John Baldessari.

Screened hourly in a darkened gallery in which the artists have arranged several props, the 20-minute silent-movie illuminates connections between the medium of film and the form thoughts often take. Both, it becomes clear, are essentially matters of editing--of establishing sequences, framing points of view and creating sensible rhythms out of otherwise arbitrary experiences.

The plotless film consists of three unrelated segments of uneventful footage. Originally shot in the 1930s as backdrops for scenes from forgotten Hollywood movies, the recycled fragments of film depict anonymous people walking in Times Square at night, a running river, and a clown plunging repeatedly into a dunk tank.

The installation falls far short of the film. Composed of two doors and a porthole suspended at different heights, it bluntly illustrates the idea that one's point of view shapes interpretation. Watching the movie through the various portals makes you feel like a school kid forced to plod through old lessons.

By inviting us to watch backgrounds, in front of which unknown stories were meant to unfold, the artists insist that what happens in the periphery is as interesting as what takes place in the foreground. Significantly, they don't ask us to impose or project our own stories onto the mute footage. Their goal is to elicit a mode of attention that borders on distraction and is based in the open-ended work of John Cage.

The point of this seemingly pointless piece is that our attention and thinking are dual processes that occur simultaneously, yet often work at cross-purposes. Abandoning oneself to a state of distraction often yields more insights than concentrating intensely.

The collaborative project doesn't need the installation window dressing the Yonemotos and Baldessari give it. The film clips are strong enough to stand on their own. You find yourself wishing there were more, or fantasizing about archives filled with innumerable movies without central subjects or obvious direction.

* Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-0433, through Sept. 5. Closed Monday s and Tuesday s .

Techno Domination: Delirium as transcendence is boldly and bodily served up by "Excess in the Techno-Mediacratic Society." This stylistically coherent yet conceptually inconsistent exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery charts the intriguing attempts by 15 contemporary artists to short-circuit technology's domination of modern life.

Curated by New York-based artist Joseph Nechvatal, the show struggles to interrupt the incessant, overwhelming flow of electronic information. Paradoxically, its strategy is to exuberantly embrace the operations of advanced telecommunications.

Most of its images strive to increase the velocity and scope of data transmission, until one's perception of the world dissolves into a hallucinatory, mind-warping blur. The eerie glow of computer monitors, the invisible power of microchips and the faceless authority of international conglomerates predominate, ensuring a cool sheen of heartless experimentation.

Ominous shape is given to the connections between technology and manipulation by Philip Pocock's malignant Cibachromes, Carl Fudge's labyrinthine silk-screens, Peter Nagy's stark palimpsests of corporate logos and Matt Mullican's dysfunctional symbols.

Enlarged images of bacteria and brains, life-size intestines made of fragile paper, mutant renditions of cellular structures and ghostly halos of human physiognomy flesh out a contrary picture of the brave new world promised by technology. This side of the show brings corporeal vulnerability into painfully sharp focus.

Carter Hodgkin's shadowy silhouettes of potential diseases, Peter Kogler's cerebral Rorschach blots, Kiki Smith's extracted bowels, Steve Miller's bright viruses and Nechvatal's intangible reflections of dissolving bodies suggest that human flesh is an essential component of even the most disembodied fantasies of technological perfection.

Genetic codes and computer circuitry are meant to function as analogues that tie the schizophrenic exhibition together. This gambit doesn't always work, often leaving bodies and minds divided.

Christof Kohlhofer's raw paintings present the smartest balance between people and machines, dizziness and clarity. His "Entertainment and Death" is a cardboard map of Russia overlaid with the locations of dangerous levels of radioactive contamination, and with the sites where cannabis, hashish and heroin are produced.

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