The Bawdiest and the Brightest
The Video Art of Tony Weathers
911 Media Arts Center
Through May 25.
This is Tony Weathers's first multi-work solo exhibition. The Seattle artist has had single pieces in group shows for years; he has shown in Europe the same way, popping up at credible venues but never breaking out. For 911 Media Arts Center, at the invitation of Steven Vroom, Weathers created a large-scale video action painting. It's a captivating study in traditional principles of visual harmony through repetition and refraction. In a hallway, three other video installations form a slapstick appendage to Memory Whole: 13 Standard Abstract Designs, the centerpiece whose title also serves as the name of the show. In the layout is a clue about the productive tension between what Weathers knows (quite a bit about art history and theory, it would seem) and what he likes (the kind of entertainment that strikes the body dumb).
In Memory Whole: 13 Standard Abstract Designs (2007), he employs a split-screen technique. Footage is reflected in negative, creating the illusion of a symmetrical whole. Doubled footage appearing on opposing gallery walls gives the impression of four hands at work at once. But the action in each is of a single arm as it sponges and squeezes slightly curdled, red fluid onto a white surface, with glinting, Rorschach-puddle results. The hand drains the sponge and returns to the surface for a slow, deliberate scouring, and the process begins anew.
Although the action is occasionally synced and the shapes of the spills are similar, the same footage is not projected on both walls and the color of the red dye is not quite identical. Projected at opposite ends of the space, it is difficult to watch both videos unfold and relate. This imperfect symmetry in the halves of the installation highlights the precise, yet manufactured, symmetry of the doubled footage.
Memory Whole is a good argument for the scientific assertion that symmetry is a necessary component of beauty. The gut response to Weathers's simple mirroring process, as well as his spontaneous hand-sculpting of the imagery, is pleasure.
Weathers made another piece for 911: Marco...! Polo...! (2007), a pick-up-stick-like stack of surveillance monitors on a low pedestal. On top of the pile, a television plays a short loop of early (and funny) black-and-white cartoon footage: a man who appears to be a train conductor inadvertently tussling with another man on a cart made airborne by a tornado. The seven small surveillance monitors play footage of snails pausing or moving slowly.
Marco...! Polo...! confronts the audience's sense of obligation to the artwork by seeming to unfold within its own underlying system. Weathers offers footage that is either too fast to ingest or too slow to easily attract commitment, and in Marco...! Polo...!, the discomfort of this push and pull is only sharpened by the placement of the screens. They're low, and some are turned downward; to look at them all, you'd have to sit on the floor.
Similarly, Weathers's video-format artist's statement from 2001, in which he spells out every word with corresponding letters from the alphabet of international aviation, is both alluring and impatient-making, and at 911, is projected at a neck-straining height.
Armchair General (2005) is a boar's skull placed on a bar stool, which in turn rests on a low pedestal. A machine on the underside of the seat projects composite footage onto the pedestal of low-budget dinner fare: corn, peas, canned refried beans. Weathers filmed each food item falling onto a white surface, reversed the footage, and then layered the lot of them. The coming and going of the foods is carefully choreographed, the sounds of impact played through a subwoofer. Beans scuttle across the pedestal as a mound of canned pasta heaves and settles before shooting back up "into" the bar stool. The presentation is hilarious and frantic, evoking the jolty hither and fro of silent-era action sequences.
As in Memory Whole, the materials are, or are a lot like, the substances that enter and leave the human body, bringing to mind organic cycles of mess and order, making and consuming, building and demolition. And if all this sounds too heavy-handed, it probably is.
Simply put, Weathers is enjoying himself and he wants the same for his audience. The delivery of his artist's statement ranges from deadpan to theatrically cantankerous, but his face betrays plain old amusement. He is operating at the intersection of humor and information, in a far less austere way than his former employer, Gary Hill, or Ann Hamilton, another artist associated with language. Weathers can be austere, but his flip side is taunting, fooling, and consciously lowbrow, even bawdy, a little Mike Kelley. His informed engagement with art and history, shot through with entertainment, offers a complete, red-blooded experience.