In ancient Greece, the Pythia—the woman charged with transmitting the Oracle—descended into a temple that sat on the intersection of two fault lines in the earth. What happened once she got there is the subject of argument, but basically it involved divinity and drugs. She saw the present, past, and future all at once; she spoke in tongues or with her own voice and vocabulary; she probably was high on gas hissing out from the cleft in the planet. A perfect confluence of the spiritual, the geological, and the physical produced this revered wisdom. But how do you crack things open given no chasm, no cleft? No Chasm, No Cleft: That's the title of Brendan Jansen's first solo at Crawl Space Gallery, a show of five videos and two chalk drawings.
What you see in No Chasm, No Cleft is hard to describe; it involves the cutting and slicing and reuniting of photographs and video frames that feature landscapes, people, Jansen's studio, and sculptures and shapes he's made. Oedipus Whatever is a double video portrait of Jansen's face superimposed on his son Sterling's face, both rotating back and forth as if on digital spits. Their faces are striped because their visages have been vivisected and then put back together again—Jansen videotaped Sterling passing under a sliver of light, then pulled frames from the video and rebuilt them into a new animated image. I can't help but associate it with science's search for wisdom in the Visible Human Project, begun in the 1980s: Male and female cadavers were vivisected (the male sectioned at one-millimeter intervals, the female every one-third millimeter), each slice was photographed, and the images were rejoined to create the first digitally traversable 3-D humans. To know it is to cut into it. There's potential violence in curiosity, but what else do we have?
Another video, thinkingdeeplyaboutimportantthings, depicts a skull that spins like a planet (as the world turns...)—or like the bodies on the screens of cosmetic surgeons in movies or boys with fantasies and computers. (Remember the spinning digital webby-grid version of Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science?) An unlit drawing in white chalk on a dark panel depicts a baby's face, upside down, taking its first screaming breath, the rest of the baby still inside the woman whose legs stretch sketchily toward the viewer in the darkened gallery (there are no overhead lights, only ambient light from the videos).
No chasm, no cleft (Chaco Canyon) is a prismatic patchwork of a video depicting the New Mexican national park, once a center of Puebloan culture. The naturally sedimentary landscape—packed not only with geological history but also archaeological artifacts—is probed and paralleled by Jansen's refracted view (which is also reminiscent of David Hockney's optical experiments in painting and photography). Jansen is seeking wisdom, ideals, transcendence. After a graduate-school dalliance with proficient but moribund surrealism, Jansen is creating cracks in a search that feels real and personal. You never know quite what will manifest when something is broken apart.