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Movement Meets Text

Between Cinema and A Hard Place

By Judith E. Dutton

video installation by Gary Hill

at the Busch Reisinger Gallery

through September 17

Upstairs in the Fogg, past the Greek pillars and pseudo-marble walls where dusty portarits and Medieval paintings hang in somber tribute to Fine Art, lies the much more hip Busch Reisinger gallery, sporting Harvard's first and very worthwhile video installation exhibit.

Gary Hill's "Between Cinema and a Hard Place" occupies its own room, dark and intimate like a movie theatre. An arrangement of video screens flashes sequences of images. But these are unlike the slicked-up, fast-paced entertainment we're used to. This is much more serious, and much more meditative. The monitors show scenes of fields, woods, the Sides of stucco houses in an urban neighborhood, and a woman's voice utters excerpts from Heidegger's philosophical text, The Nature of Language.

Definitely, not the channels we're used to surfing. But within this context the television gains a new weight as a cultural icon, a mess of wires worthy of being considered along with the oil paints and bicycle seats of past art lore. It was not until the mid 1960s that artists began to use the commercially available portapak cammera as an artistic medium, and since then, the technical and conceptual sophistication of video art has increased dramatically. Gary Hill created his first video installation in 1974 and went on to become a prominent, internationally renowned video artist.

Postmodern, anti-linear decorum suggests that it isn't important to start at the beginning, and chances are you'll arrive in the middle of the sequence. What is important is Hill's coupling of text and video which explores the relationship between space and time, language and reality. These relationships, set forth by Heidegger in the early 20th century, have been severely upset by the advent of electronic media.

At one point in the exhibit, onscreen images of planet Earth appear one at a time on different screens while the voice talks about Creation. The images bubble from screen to screen, syllable, when the language utters the words "physical" and "physiological." A rope creeps across nine screens while the voice drones on about the particularities of length and measurement. When Heidegger's text contradicts itself--"But space and time do not serve only as parameters"--the screens go blank. Then the images start rippling from left to right, change direction and slow down, as Heidegger winds his way through more of his convoluted ramblings. Then the voice stops. The images stop. Then they pick up again, together.

Heidegger, Heidegger, and more Heidegger drones on, while video images flash by in lively contrast to the deadpan textual underpinning. Philosophical discourse takes such an incredible amount of concentration and linear, logical thinking, that the flashing images and spatial nature of the cinematic form disrupts Heidegger's text more than they complement it. This brings one of the exhibit's main conflicts to light. We are a society torn between discourses, one written and one visual, and our own delight in the visual is juxtaposed with our own delight in the visual is juxtaposed with our guilt-laden tendency to try to make sense of the written. But this conflict, both examined by Hill's work and evident in it, does not interfere with the pleasing, interesting sensory experience of the monitor-filled dark room.

As spatial-temporal relations break down under the electric wire and neighbors are no longer the guys next door, many new definitions will emerge to combat the conventional ones, spawning new aesthetics Heidegger could only guess at. On the bumpy path to a new aesthetic, "Between Cinema and A Hard Place" is a visually tantalizing, take-your date kind of exhibit worth experiencing.

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