Zombies: Onscreen, at the table, in the voting booth

The diverse works presented in the current show at the UTSA Satellite Space seem to me to be less about the media than the message; the exhibit often feels less like a new-media laboratory than a tech-infused political commentary with an Orwellian edge. There’s also a wry fanboy-esque preoccupation with modern archetypes — the superhero, the dictator, the zombie, the soldier — albeit largely suggested rather than seen.

Let’s start with the zombies. Taro Hanrahan and Kristin Larsen present two pieces which at first I thought were titled “Domestic Zombie,” but given that “Domestic Zombie” is given before their names on the show list, it’s more likely their name as an artmaking unit. (Perhaps they also have a band?) “Midori Hotel” is a narrative film shown on a wall-mounted, flat-screen Magnavox. Behind the screen, a painted brown stain evokes not quite rust, not quite blood, but some sort of scary effluvia. Onscreen, a young woman smokes in a seedy motel room, meanwhile (maybe) a man drives a battered, dark-red Plymouth Voyager. The “actors” are without affect — a hallmark in video art, which often subverts movie-making conventions. I’m not going to lay out the whole fractured narrative here, but it’s a scary piece of work, infused with (un?)-dead élan. Hanrahan and Larsen’s other installation, “Synesthesia,” features ambient music and a projection onto a glass plane of a fiery Rorschach of drifting smoke or spreading liquid, all in gorgeous techno-color.

Taro Hanrahan’s solo piece, “ We Are All Just Carbon and Pixels,” features three screens, each displaying a little animated apocalypse of falling bombs and stylized devastation. The graphic, deftly rendered images of missiles, architecture, and doomed trees, and their movement along
2-D planes, recall the work of Mike Mills and Arya Senboutaraj, as though Air’s “Sexy Boy” video had taken a nuclear turn.

Michael Stoltz’s “The 1st Agreement” is a duo of soon-to-be-obsolete regular ol’ TVs, facing each other. On one is shown the back of a man’s head against a blue sky. On the other, the back of a woman’s blond head, her ponytail tousled by (perhaps) the same breeze, and occasionally the unmistakable branches of live oaks whip by. The two figures are faceless and seemingly ignore one another, while the televisions themselves, in contrast, seem to stare one another down.

Justin Boyd’s “The Idle Rule of an Action Hero” has no video screens whatsoever. This human-scale and alluring sculpture looks a bit like a shiny high-concept thermos on a wooden box, and it’s made of mahogany, a muffler, a car stereo, and a speaker. A speaker? Yes. It invites you to tip your ear — a little nervously, given the dark tenor of the show — toward the opening at the top, from which one can hear an eerie, distorted voice, something like a cartoon villain, intoning “Haaa haaa haaaa.” Ha!

You really have to listen to hear the audio portion of Boyd’s object, though, given that on an adjacent wall a terrifying and enormous projection of Bill O’Reilly’s face (a work by G.H. Wise, entitled “Talking Heads”) is holding forth Big-Brother style, sputtering, “It’s not fair!” and “Don’t be a poltroon!” In Wise’s tech-savvy hands, O’Reilly becomes a dumb-ass demon of the airwaves, no less scary for his plodding pedestrian patter. Wise’s immersive “Red State, Blue State” also reduces political discourse to its weirdest components. Viewers are instructed to enter a curtained-off room, choose a slip of paper of either red or blue, write their name on it, and place it in the correct Plexiglas box. This farcical simulacra of the voting system as a dubious engine of choice is intellectually challenging and plain fun. In his “hybrid video sculpture” entitled “Eat!” a table is set with two chairs, one housing a silhouetted human figure made of metal, the face of which is a small video screen showing a man’s face, chewing intently. Meanwhile, the sushi meal on a second, tabletop screen, disappears.

Less arch and more heartfelt are the works of Joseph Duarte. He’s the creator of four
pieces, two of which, “Quilt/Colcha,” and “Puerta/Papa;Ventana/Mama” meditate on tradition, family, and memory, combining household elements such as a quilt, weathered windows and doorways, and projections of family photos and videos, children, blooming flowers, and flames. He manages to combine highly technical construction with themes of anger, loss, and longing without a hint of the self-conscious abstraction that can make new-media art so emotionally

Nearby at Joan Grona’s, two smaller shows are worth your attention — go take a look before the 16th, when they come down. `For a previous review of Min-Tse Chen’s “Story,” see “CAM 2008: ‘Equivocal Topographies,’ ‘Story,’ and ‘Binocular Rivalry’,” July 9-15.` Bill Amundson’s collection of colored-pencil drawings illustrate a Wal-Mart-dominated dystopia in hilariously funny detail. And Jason Jay Stevens’ installation, with its exuberant explosions of bedsheets, wordplay, and video, ignites both eye and mind. •


Media Lab:
Communication and Art in the 21st Century

Noon-6pm Fri-Sun,
& by appt.
Through Aug 24
UTSA Satellite Space
Blue Star Arts
Complex, Ste. 115
(210) 212-7146.

Bill Amundson,
Jason Jay Steven
11am-6pm Wed-Sat, & by appt.
Through Aug 16
Joan Grona Gallery
112 Blue Star
(210) 225-6334

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