Saturday, February 10, 2007

Two Takes on Magnus Wallin at the Hirshhorn's Black Box Theater

Thomas DeBari

Magnus Wallin is currently showing two videos at the Hirshhorn Museum’s Black Box Theatre. Both videos were refreshingly 5 short minutes of animation. The main characters were skeletons, fleshless humans, mythic snakes, and the wings of time. The settings for these sci-fi vehicles were set into distinct places. One was the big 100-meter dash track in the sky. The other was a clinical hallway adorned with fluorescent lighting that extends to insanity infinitely to and fro. The CGI settings reminded one of video game graphics from Max Payne or Grand Theft Auto. They really just reflect the computer graphic age and the ability of this medium to project philosophy, just as well as pleasure and fantasy.

Anatomic Flop 2003

In world today where you follow in your father’s footsteps only to see that his options are no longer yours, your possibilities for life are not as great. There is not as much optimism in bringing yourself up in life. People are happy with mediocrity. Unfortunately, ever since the bomb dropped and that great generation built up America, Americans have not been that great. Or maybe ambitious, either way I cannot see how we can do anything better than that that has been done. We have a lack of responsibility and lack the need to push ourselves, because we already live better than the rest of the world in the clothes they make for us. Wallin’s work capitalizes all its energy on these myths. Showing us our world; you run hard at your goal, you go go go and bang there isn’t enough time to get there. This reminds me of Cody Chestnutt’s song When I find Time, “I only got time to think about the time I don’t have.” The message is that as you go and go you only wish you could complete something. So circling in on yourself you only wish for things you have not. Wishing for things you can’t have is futile. I agree with this philosophy. The video is also extremely well timed and the viewpoint is a sign curve that signifies a never-ending let down. The final shot is looking up into the black and gray green clouds and saying fuck it “Bartender I’ll have ten of the most expensive whiskeys.”

In relationship to other artists it’s an Ad Reinhart painting. “An entertaining surprising animation of existentialism.” MY Two thumbs up.

The Exercise Parade

A complete reflection of today will show people will kill to look good. We want to achieve that look that search for youth. We love young actors young musicians, and young artists. We all love that star quality. The video The Exercise Parade was extremely cheeky. It showed a skeleton playing leapfrog with fleshless human in an insane asylum hallway. Through the video the figures grab the wall as the star orb rolls by. The orb in making contact with the edge of the screen lights up. Illumination of a skinny human possibly a child appears and then the glowing orb retreats. The two main characters “the fleshless wonder” and “skeleton” go back to work jumping over each other. There is no fun in this except in how kind of simple and everyday video game this is. Accompanying the video is an odd audio track of someone moaning, crying, and laughing all overlaid adding to the unease of the situation. At the end, a snake slithers out the walls flux. The video ends with snake engulfing the viewer and the characters. We are left contemplating paradise. We are all doomed when you put shit up on a pedestal, and let it run your life. Obviously entrapped by science we can no longer decide for ourselves doggedly following things that are not the truth.

Wallin’s strategy of using today’s technology and visual language of the game, combined with a gift for making a myth out of the trifling ideologies present in today’s society, makes learning fun. With out a doubt engaging to all age groups he sets the bar high for people working with new media.

Bradley Chriss

Throughout history, mankind has had a fascination with the mechanics of anatomy.- Kelly Gordon, Associate Curator Black Box Hirshhorn museum

Magnus Wallin’s short animations of skinned men, in both “ Exercise Parade” 2001 and “Anatomic Flop” 2003, are not only explorations of the mechanics of human anatomy, like Muybridge, but an exploration of the limits of the idea of anatomy and its meaning. Anatomy is stretched over the entirety of the video. Anatomy is seen in the video's method of animation, the machine that it projects, the wall that it is projected on and the projected beam of light. We must also consider the anatomy of the viewers (us, me, you, Magnus?...). Eye and brain are the anatomy of our conception to see video, and the exploration to reflex. To indicate these videos as just surreal or allegorical is to undermine the video, it would flatten it, providing it with too many predetermined contexts. These videos explore communication at its fundamental. Challenges to how and why we see and communicate(with one another or with work or with the artist through work) are evident in every aspect of the videos.

In “Anatomic Flop” skinned runners dash across a cross-country track suspended in ether, only to be sent/forced back to the starting line by a giant, winged hour glass. This narrative calls up surface ideas of Sisyphus. To view the work as a modern day retelling of the Sisyphus myth is too easy.

The perspective of the track changes as the “camera” pans over as a near bird's eye perspective. The vanishing point changes. Sometimes, we are looking up at the track or down on the track or away to the human horizon. We are asked to consider this very simple architectural structure from all angles. Wallin is showing us how he can dictate our view. By varying the view, he is showing us vast ranges of how we can understand. He surrenders his power as soon as he shows it. The track never separates from the bottom of the picture plane, which makes us aware of its window-like qualities, emphasizing our desire to enter the picture plane. However, we are blocked by its own otherness. Our entrance is purely psychological. He tests the viewer's anatomy, by having skinned men tossed and impacting the ground. I became very sensitive to the idea of being skinned and having all of my nerves exposed, heightening the indicated sensation of wet slapping of skinned muscle hitting rough clay or rubber ground. With each wet slap, I flinch, aware of my own anatomy.

In “Exercise Parade” 2001 the double/mirror image/projection is a dubious hallway going back into infinity, lit by florescent hall lights. A skeleton and a skinned man are leap frogging down the tunnel on the left, towards us. They stop periodically as pinballs, made of static, and roll down a hall, bouncing against walls. Finally, they stop when the picture plane is reached, impacting and showing us glimpses of some person/child/woman/man(?) hovering in the ball and disappearing. The skeleton is full of trauma each time a ball comes down either corridor (this is the only character that exists in both hallways simultaneously). It begins moaning and weeping, but only through sound as it is without musculature. The Skinned man always ignores Skeleton's trauma and has no sense of trauma. Wet, pitter patting sounds contrast clanking sounds as the two leap frog through infinity. The leap froggers can achieve what the static/pinball/childs/persons cannot. They can move from left picture hallway to right picture hallway.

As they move through, they stop coming towards us and start going away. How can this be? What is this logic? Why are the balls stopped at the picture plane, and not the leap froggers? What does this mean? Do the leap froggers get to leap frog across picture planes while the pinball does not? Why? The pinball seems to point out exactly where light and wall meet and where we fall short of entering the sequence/crisis/trauma. We are placed back into our bodies but with a lack of clarity of how we use these bodies in this place. Has viewership become traumatic? As the leapfroggers leap frog down the right hallway, a large snake with loud hissing sounds descends down the left hallway. (How odd that the snake does not enter through right hallway?) The giant snake reappears swallowing the image on the left and right. The swallowing image is accompanied by a loud hiss and scream which is startling, bringing my own anatomy back into play. The swallowing takes place from two perspectives, on the right and left. On the left, the snake comes towards us swallowing us, while on right the snake swallows away from us, towards the leap froggers. ( Are we seeing from the inside of the snake after we have been swallowed, or are we asked to be dead for one second and see the swallowing from the perspective of the snake.) This may be impossible, our physical response to the fear caused by the snake does not allow us to be dead and hence passive, but we are asked to assume the role of dead and the role of traumatized viewer at the same time. The snake eats all things, as a viewer does, consuming everything in the room as it consumes the picture.

Who was your favorite sculptor in the Uncertainty of Objects at the Hirshhorn?
Andrea Cohen
Bjorn Dahlem
Isa Genzken
Mark Handforth
Rachel Harrison
Evan Holloway
Charles Long
Mindy Shapero
Franz West
Free polls from

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