Takeshi Murata's spectacular Monster Movie is the unmistakable star of the show up now at Western Bridge. To make the four-minute-long piece, Murata digitally tore up a few seconds from the 1981 B movie Caveman using tools that allow him some degree of improvisation, turning the scenery into a roiling blitz of psychedelic color that surrounds the monster as he performs a funny-sad convulsive dance. A catchy song by Plate Tectonics acts as the soundtrack.
Over and over, the monster charges forward as though he's fighting with the very surface of the video, in the manner of, say, de Kooning tearing at his abstract paintings, destroying and remaking them hundreds of times before declaring them finished. Or the collagists. Or Lucio Fontana, the canvas ripper. The images are both illusionistic and abstract. Likewise, the work is both deep in terms of its engagement with philosophies of artmaking, and flat in terms of simply being entertaining.
It's a video that's more about painting and cinema than video. And in fact, as Western Bridge director Eric Fredericksen points out, the entire group video exhibition, titled Multiplex, turns out to be more about dance and choreography than about video. Multiplex is one of three video art surveys on display in Seattle right now, but none of them claims actually to survey video as a medium. What would be the point? It may have been a viable idea back in the 1970s, when video was young and self-conscious, but now video art can be just about anything: abstract, literary, sculptural, painterly. It can be indistinguishable from experimental film, costume drama, hand animation, documentary, and everything else on YouTube. (Check out Kalup Linzy's "All My Churen" to see an artist whose work really fits YouTube.)
In art galleries and museums, the diversity of the medium is evident in the insane number of different screening apparatuses. It's almost comedic, and usually determined by a gallery's relative resources, but it also feels right for the unpoliced loping around of the medium itself.
How many ways are there to install a work of video art? At the independent nonprofit Crawl Space gallery, it's like a poor man's technology fair right now. There are handheld DVD players, clunky TV sets with thick frames around the screens, tiny naked monitors mounted on the walls and sprouting wires, and the glowing eye of a projector focused on a screen in the middle of the room. The occasion is a survey of nine young video artists from around the country—an unlikely event in a one-room alternative space, meant as a retort to the many juried shows that leave out video entirely because of practical considerations.
The rich man's version is over at Western Bridge, where sleek flatscreens are the preferred but by no means only display devices. There's a giant projection in a pitch-black room, movie-style; a screen dangling in midair over a balcony; wall projections; and a large, complex built structure that acts as a wooden proscenium for three screens with a roped-off area of visible "backstage." Multiplex is a buffet of video from the last 10 years, augmented in the upstairs sitting room by an on-demand anthology of video curated by the New Museum of Contemporary Art and called Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image.
Demonstrating the high-production-value end of the spectrum is Isaac Julien's loaded, psychoanalytic performance video The Long Road to Mazatlan (2000), part of Multiplex. A lush tour de force, it follows the charged rendezvous of two men in the Texas desert, expressed almost entirely in stylized choreography. (There are also showgirls.) It's a layered, literary seduction—of the men and the viewer. The wooden display apparatus with a symbolic "backstage" invites you to read the video symbolically.
Of the other works in Multiplex, only Seattle artist Jack Daws's Bicycle Thief (2002) seems worth special mention, for its hard-edged sense of humor. In it, the artist comes upon a bicycle with a lock on it; he breaks the lock and replaces it with another one, committing a mystifying crime.
In the separate anthology Point of View, be sure not to miss Francis Alÿs's El Gringo, in which even dogs smell a racial divide; David Claerbout's sweet-natured Le Moment; the first few minutes of Gary Hill's mesmerizing Blind Spot; the last few minutes of Douglas Gordon's Over My Shoulder; Paul McCar-thy's anarchic WGG Test; and Pipilotti Rist's weirdo I Want to See How You See. Be sure to miss Joan Jonas's embarrassing Waltz.
Coming of Age, the unassuming little show crowded into Crawl Space, has almost as much appeal as Western Bridge's bigger-name production. It was juried by Seattle Art Museum assistant curator Marisa C. Sanchez, who selected the 19 works from a national call for submissions. Aside from a few that smack too much of well-trod ideas (Jennifer Campbell's boxing video, for instance, doesn't add much to the domain of earlier camera pugilism by Tracey Moffatt, Vito Acconci, and Sophie Whettnall, but her bird-eyed video is pleasantly surrealistic), this array of works by an array of young artists is exciting for its freshness and, naturally, range.
Animations in the humble medium of watercolor by Jennifer Levonian, a Philadelphia-based MFA grad of Rhode Island School of Design, are astoundingly funny, smart, and well-made. She inserts herself as a character into each video, whether it tells the story of an attempted cover-up involving an invasion of macaws at Colonial Williamsburg, a bank robbery with a Busby Berkeley twist, or a sweaty and patriotic church picnic.
Getting the Love Want, by Seattle-based artist Debra Baxter and Zack Bent, is an entire eventful relationship told in one minute through bubble-gum bubble blowing. Ellen Lake's unadorned documentary of the relationship between her grandmother and grandfather made from interviews and spliced home movies turns out to be more expansive than it looks. Shannon Benine's Moth is also a documentary of sorts. A toy moth appears onscreen, unmoving, for the duration of the action in the background: flashes of light synchronized with audio of soldiers taking cover during a real mortar attack, recorded by a relative of the artist who's serving in Iraq. "Don't crowd me under the table," one man says to another. "Please, Lord, let it stop."