Buy Limited Edition DVD - $20
792 Short Films, 2 hr 20 m.
As seen at Howard House.
Numbered, 1st edition of 100.


The Stranger, January 8, 2004

Young Seattle Artists Show Their Stuff
by Emily Hall

YSA!!! Howard House, 2017 Second Ave, 256-6399
Through Jan 31. 2004

Rob Zverina's 792 Short Films took me somewhat by surprise. At first glance it seemed to be exactly the kind of work that I'm so tired of: fragmented bits of video, something like six hours' worth of it, unanchored to any system, all things made equal, busily visual and exhausting. It took a good half-hour of watching--little blips of video shot on one of those tiny 30-second cameras--before the ideas began to cohere.

"Cohere" is perhaps not the right word for something of so many unrelated parts, but perhaps it's exactly right when language and art seem to work in opposition. In this case the elements of postmodernism work in opposition to that theory's tendency to break things apart beyond recognition, beyond the possibility of meaning; like Max Frisch's 1980 novel Man in the Holocene (which assembled seemingly objective information into a really rather personal narrative), the effect of 792 Short Films is cumulative rather than alienating. Here's a cat prowling across a roof; here's a girl in the shower; here's artist Jesse Paul Miller talking sort of dreamily to someone about something; here's some dishes, and someone laughing. It is precisely the opposite of Andy Warhol's eight-hour film of a single view of the Empire State Building; instead of scoping in to notice tiny shifts in light or circumstance, your perception opens out like a lens. You are never bored, only longing for a few more seconds here or there, to know what becomes of something, to hear the end of the sentence. It makes you aware of your capacity for seeing and taking in and interpreting. It is all generosity.

792 Short Films is one of the pleasures and surprises of YSA!!!, which means "Young Seattle Artists," which is roughly but not really analogous to the YBAs, or "Young British Artists," of the '90s. For one thing, you do not emerge from this show feeling like someone has tried really hard to shock the pants off you (YSA!!! is much more polite), although it is exhausting--there are works by some 34 artists, both current gallery artists and the unaffiliated artists they recommend. I suffered a bit of that Biennial feeling after YSA!!!, the feeling that I might have liked a lot more of the art had I seen less of it all at once.

The best of the new work, to my mind, is in video. There's Zverina's, and then there's another Peter Mundwiler work, with two videos running side by side: One is of a few minutes filmed in a cafe, and the other of every action in the first video carefully scripted and reenacted. It's hard, after leaving the gallery, not to see your every movement as deliberate, and something that might be noted somewhere. (I'm crossing the street, I'm looking over my shoulder, I'm stumbling up onto the curb. ) I also loved Gary Owen's daffy video in which he creates an Ab-Ex-style painting using a broom attached to a backhoe--not quite the last word in removing the romantic hand from painting (that would belong to Jason Salavon's painting-producing algorithms), but still nearly as trenchant as it is funny: a large, loud, bullying, awkward machine with the broom sort of limply tied to it, and in the end, nothing to show for it but the video.

In the realm of made objects, there is Jenny Heishman's sculpture made of brown pompoms modeled into an arch, mounted on a mirror so that the arch completes an impossible circle. The inspiration for this work lay in the sandcastles of Heishman's childhood, and tucked somewhere in your mind you probably remember trying to make sand do what sand will not do; Heishman--who is to hold a solo show at Howard House later this year--has thoughtfully defied nature for us. It's a satisfying little thing, and I did not tire of looking at it.

And although I was glad to see these good works, I'm at a loss for what the show proposes. Is it meant to be an optimistic gloss on the state of art-to-come in Seattle? Is it a kind of high-minded focus group? It is, I think, too much, no matter how optimistic.

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