Tues April 26, Northwest Film Forum, 7 pm, $3.
Neil Goldberg, the New York-based video and installation artist who will present an evening of his single-channel videos at the Northwest Film Forum on Tuesday, April 26, has said that his videos are intended to be shown on TVs or monitors because they underscore the abject quality of the medium. He says that presenting them on TVs is like "flaunting the stump." Considering that one of the videos shown in the screening program features his mother reading a dream he had in which she had a prosthetic arm--"her grip is very strong"--the stump statement seems to be more than a clever throwaway: Working with the limitations he chooses, Goldberg creates an unusual metaphysical comedy.
Projected large at the NWFF, the abjectness still seems in place, but there is a fragility that is present in a way that the small screen doesn't allow. On televisions the nuances and happenstance moments are lost a bit because of our overfamiliarity with the screen as a place where humor and pain, fiction and fact, are all played for entertainment--a certain viewer glaze, a flattening of values, works against the offhanded humanity in Goldberg's work.
It's experienced most intimately in two videos with his parents in them. In the aforementioned piece, My Parents Read Dreams I've Had About Them, his mother and father deliver his bizarre and mundane dreams nearly deadpan. His mother breaks character, cracking a smile and suppressing a laugh at one point. She regains her composure, but the moment--the fracture in the setup--is what makes the piece.
It's these moments of oddity and humor that make Goldberg's work resonate. Their casual, camcorder feel isn't visually stunning like his multi-channel piece 19 Rainstorms at Western Bridge, which plays on monitors and as large-screen projections. The single-channel videos at the NWFF are fairly straightforward, focused on repeated gestures such as merchants raising metal storefront gates, gay men petting their cats and saying "she's a talker," and people's dance-like arm movements as they describe riding a rollercoaster.
Goldberg's emotional core is a shrug (a series of five videos is titled Hallelujah Anyway) but it isn't out of resignation or disinterest; it's an engagement with the multiple meanings of any moment, the balance of disappointment and living, the amputation that either grief or joy bring to experiencing the full spectrum of life. In System of Writing Thank-You Notes, Goldberg's father describes his highly organized method for writing thank-you cards after the funeral of his wife (who we have seen reading dreams earlier in the program). It's quietly heartbreaking watching the containment, the ordering of grief as he reads the 16 phrases and statements he used for the process of sending 97 cards to relatives, friends, and hospice workers. His father looks straight at the camera: "In order to include something of a personal nature."