Thursday, September 27, 2012
Video: Art on the Omni Hotel was like a “console in the sky”
Serving as the opening ceremony to Dallas VideoFest, the first-ever installation was 50 minutes of unprecedented innovation.
On an empty piece of land on the south side of Dallas nestled between Interstate 30 and Oak Cliff Viaduct, the grass was unkempt and the location remote, but the uncharacteristic hills made it feel like a natural amphitheater overlooking the city skyline. As the sun went down Wednesday night, a crowd of several hundred gathered in this motley space to witness the unveiling of an artistic showcase on the largest canvas in North Texas — roughly 20 stories by 1,000 feet.
The 25th Annual Dallas VideoFest kicked off in a big way with the production of "Expanded Cinema," a 14-part video and light project on the outer LED surface of the Omni Dallas Convention Center Hotel. Curators Carolyn Sortor, Bart Weiss, and Mike Morris called on 14 local artists to each create a visual and audio experience that pushes the boundaries of modern media and fine art. The collaboration turned out to be 50 minutes of unprecedented innovation.
“There are no actual words to describe it,” said Corina Calderon, an Addison resident who came down to see the show. “It’s all about using your imagination to connect the music and the images. It’s super cool.”
Tall speakers were set out in the field to play the show’s soundtrack, which was broadcast live by 91.7 KXT. Once the digital count down on the face of the Omni hit one minute, the audience fell silent until the motion pictures began. The neon hotel lights faded to darkness for a moment as the natural sounds of city sirens buzzed down the highway. Then a simple game of video game pong began on the screen, as though someone pushed "start" on a console in the sky.
“Being nice to each other is an invention of the living,” dictated a robot, her voice void of feeling. A few frames later, she was interrupted by a new woman, a silhouette seductress conceived by Morris whose intellectual intrigue was heightened by the means in which her curves flickered through the color palette. The night was ablaze with wonderment.
“Expanded Cinema” began as an idea based on a 1970s book by Gene Youngblood, who was the first to argue in favor of video, film, and multimedia as fine art. The absence of theme for the project Wednesday made for an interesting presentation full of starkly contrasting pieces that experimented in different realms design. Realism and human figures, in pieces such as “Braille,” made a strong impact when transferred to the big screen because the images came across crisp and distinguishable.
Other artists chose to play more to the medium and illuminate bars of light without morphing them into pictures. Edward Setina showed a particularly clever use of space in his piece “Specter City,” which mimicked vertical audio levels on a sound board that followed the beat of the music.
The most perplexing, and surely one of the most memorable, had little to do with the lights themselves. In Jenny Vogel’s “Save Our Souls,” a female voice eerily recited a number of Craigslist Missed Connections as the Omni pulsated with white lights. This made the viewer question the stability of modern society and its need for social validation, and proved to be the most conceptual video.
The downfalls of “Expanded Cinema,” though few and far between, were due mostly to aesthetic confusion and the eye’s inability to focus on certain designs. Details and lack of definition between colors/objects, for example, were difficult to comprehend and tough to map out. As one event attendee put it, these works would have done well in a gallery, but they were too abstract for the medium.
The visualizations and the audio were highly dependent on each other. Without one or the other, the evening would have felt disjointed and strikingly average. For the crew behind the project, that fact made the beginning moments extremely nerve-racking since the two parts had never been simultaneously tested. Fortunately, the timing between sight and sound matched perfectly from the get-go.
After the kick off, professionals involved with “Expanded Cinema” spoke about the marriage of modern technology and visual art. Whether a reincarnation will surface in the coming years of VideoFest is yet to be determined, however, members of the local arts community said they were satisfied knowing that it can be done -- and done first here in Big D.
In this day and age, coming up with a truly original idea is impressive, said Tim Capper, who designed “Pong Master.”
“And especially for that to happen in Dallas,” he said, “nothing ever happens first in Dallas.”
Frank Campagna’s “Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Knock Knock?”
Frank Campanga, artist and owner of Deep Ellum’s Kettle Art Gallery, saw a lighter side of the experiment. His animation “Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Knock Knock?” features enormous fruits flying along the circumference of the Omni to an original tune constructed of samples Campagna put together. The iconic street artist began studying and making video in 2005, and “Expanded Cinema” accomplished his New Year's resolution to have his newest form of art showcased.
He said the feeling of making video art is different than outdoor murals because paint can easily be worn, weathered, or ruined by graffiti; murals are temporary. While Campagna’s video work is sure to outlast him, he felt the same rebellious satisfaction seeing “Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Knock Knock?” on the side of a building.
“It’s a fun way to tag a building and not get in trouble,” he said.
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