Once a week, usually on Wednesday, I’ve been stopping by ICA’s Project Space, a small gallery on the second floor, and watching the video. There’s a new one every week pretty much all year as part of ICA’s 3-part exhibition, Video Art: Replay. I was particularly interested in the second part— Everyday Imaginary, curated by ICA’s Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow Lucy Gallun—because it explored the boundary between make believe and the everyday, which is something I think about a lot.
The videos in this show range from just over a minute (it’s fun to watch these repeat and repeat again) to about half an hour. Sometimes I’m the only person in the Project Space, which makes watching feel like a secret, and sometimes there are other people, which makes it feel like a shared meal.
This show looks at short videos that use animation, or animation-like techniques, but the subjects of these works are not fairy tales or aliens or cartoon mice. Mostly they treat the ordinary experiences—the nature of cities, playing pool, ants foraging—but render them in such a way that they seem almost magical; or rather, they enable us to see what’s magical in the everyday ordinary world around us. How strange to remember that the black boxes of buildings hold people yearning (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Signs Facing the Sky, 2005); that the shapes of letters could almost be the shapes of animals (Shahzia Sikander, Dissonance to Detour, 2006); that ants, carrying the glittering detritus of Carnaval, can make the parched earth shimmer ( Cao Guimarães and Rivane Neuenschwander’s Quarta-Feira de Cinzas, 2006)!
In one of my favorite videos (Rob Carter’s Metropolis, 2008), we see an empty landscape gradually overlaid with a house, a church, ten houses, city streets, skyscrapers, baseball stadiums, and finally what I take to be nuclear ash. New additions push up with audible squeaks and grunts, and new maps snap loudly into place over the old. A whole city comes to life, sprouts and burgeons and explodes into modernity before our eyes.
Best of all—most poignant—is the way Carter uses sound. The early minutes of the video are so peaceful, the silence broken only by the wind and the sound of bells, while toward the end we are accosted by car horns, airplanes, the endless roar of highway noise.
Walking home after I saw that video, I couldn’t stop hearing the city sounds all around me—sounds I’m not usually aware of—and straining unconsciously to hear the bells, the silence, beneath. I was aware, too, of the earth under the concrete: the farmland it must once have been. The field, the forest, birds in the trees and foxes hunting and panthers waiting for dusk. That was weeks ago, but I still think about it, walking up from the R-3 in the mornings past Franklin Field, the food trucks, the library with its five million books. Is that world less real because it’s vanished? Is it now purely imaginary? Or maybe impurely imaginary.
Part 3 of ICA’s Video Show, Ludicrous!—curated by Jenelle Porter—is open at ICA through June 6. This week’s video, “The Corner,” by Shannon Plumb, features “elaborate but obvious disguises,” according to the gallery notes.