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Rattle and hum: Stephen Vitiello's 'duets'

August 22, 2008|Leah Ollman | Special to The Times

What more can you ask of a work of art than that it alter your breath -- that it first make you aware of your own breathing and then slow it, shape it, sculpt it?

Stephen Vitiello's show at MC is revelatory in that most visceral way. It doesn't just appear before you but instead engenders a kind of reciprocal occupation: You enter its realm and, in turn, the work makes its way into both body and mind.

Vitiello's chief media are sound and site. For this show, he collaborated with two artists and a lighting designer to produce three distinct installations, each a "duet." Two of the three pieces are thoroughly absorbing.

"Four Color Sound," made in collaboration with Jeremy Choate, is minimal, even purist, but sensually expansive. Choate orchestrated the shifting colors, rhythms and intensities of 10 LED light boxes evenly spaced along the inner perimeter of a gallery. Vitiello choreographed the accompanying audio, a 24-minute cycle of field recordings and synthesized sound on five channels emitted from six wall-mounted speakers. Fog curls in from a machine tucked just out of sight.

The lights stutter and blink. They pulse and run laps. They intensify and bathe the space in one pure Turrell-like chromatic glow at a time: red, gold, green and blue. Though they're the silent components of the piece, still the lights seem to scream and sigh. Meanwhile, the air is thick with a cicada-like buzz. Then the sound of water pouring, footsteps, birdcalls, perhaps a flute, a rattle, a static flutter, beeping, buzzing, a siren, drumbeats, an electronic hum.

The installation feels like an immersive theater piece, with light, color and sound contributing atmosphere, character and plot. The work unfurls through time, building tension, then easing back into a more meditative, mellow mood. The texture of sound becomes palpable: One moment feels viscous, another sharp. Layers weave together into a dense, fluid fabric of sensation. The piece performs itself anew around and through each visitor.

In the adjacent gallery, Vitiello, a professor of kinetic imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University, has teamed up with Julie Mehretu to create a stunning, untitled installation that feels like an ode to tempestuous earthly motion. Mehretu's large wall drawing suggests wind, rain or fire thrusting through a grassy field. The inky dashes and ashen streaks have the immediacy and calligraphic vigor of Japanese ink painting.

In front of the image's long wall, Vitiello has suspended a dozen speakers in a row at various heights and angles, so they constitute a visual wave, the path of a windblown hat or tossed-about spores. The interiors of the speakers pulse but emit no discernible sound. Wall-mounted speakers facing Mehretu's drawing crackle and pop and play a montage of sound (natural and synthesized) resonant with the image's evocations of flight, energy, grace and force.

Finally, but least impressively, Vitiello's collaboration with Tony Oursler hangs on a wall in the gallery's entry area. Twenty-five 3-inch speakers freckle the wall, each finger-painted with a simple face by Oursler, a badder boy than this benign effort indicates. Wires jut from the speakers like limbs or dangle from them like the strings of balloons, but that doesn't really matter. The sounds the speakers project are not distinct (especially so near to the larger light installation), and "Crazy Wall Thing" feels silly and tame and not nearly crazy enough. But the one-dimensionality of this small installation is more than compensated for by the two other richly layered works. Both are subtle, surprisingly gripping, open-ended opportunities to breathe, listen and feel.

MC, 6086 Comey Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 939-3777, through Aug. 30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Cubist videos end in tedium

Doug Henry and Joe Potts pay homage to Cubism in their new collaborative video work at Cardwell Jimmerson. They bring Picasso and Braque's fractured planes and multiple, simultaneous perspectives up to date, technologically, through hyper-speed cuts and snazzy graphic effects. Yet the results are dispiriting and flat -- overworked spectacles for the era of acquired attention deficit disorder.

The centerpiece of the show re-imagines the early 20th century Cubist still life of fruit, guitars and table coverings in early 21st century terms, as a layered barrage of projected images. Four projectors spit out close-up shots of bananas and oranges and guitar necks in rapid-fire succession, superimposed atop one another. The irony of a quick-motion still life sparkles briefly but then fizzles into a hammering headache of a one-liner.

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