Installations at Franklin Art Works play with ideas of time, place and memory.
Notions of time, place and memory have long been fertile topics for visual, film and literary artists. And so it is for acclaimed Uruguayan artist Alejandro Cesarco and young Minneapolis artist Jonathan Bruce Williams, whose unique and stylistically different perspectives on such abstract concepts are on view at Franklin Art Works.
Cesarco, who represented Uruguay in the 2011 Venice Biennale (with Magela Ferrero) and lives and works in New York City, has created a mesmerizing short single-channel video projection titled "The Two Stories."
From its beginning, we are uncertain about our location or what is taking place. We hear a narrator speaking in uninflected Spanish, and glean from the subtitles that he is recalling a reading he once presented in the period Victorian home where we now stand. He describes the filtered light and various people in attendance, including two elderly women and a young woman; he "runs his eyes through her hair," yet we see no one, only the chairs and tables they once occupied. In the garden a nude statue "represents a role it couldn't understand." Only the bushes move, blowing in the wind.
With its long tracking shots of the airless house and inaccessible garden, dream-like atmosphere and hypnotic language, the black-and-white video shares the ambiguity of time, place and memory central to Alain Resnais' film "Last Year at Marienbad." Based on a story by Felisberto Hernandez, the video's enigmatic narrative structure makes repeated viewings a must and a pleasure.
Projecting a 'sort of vision'
Williams' mixed-media sculptural installations "Sighthouse" and "Fenced In" are more concrete interpretations of time, place and memory but no less oblique in their narrative. Williams is also fascinated with process, materials and the mechanical workings of things, making his installations far more complex and labor intensive than they ostensibly appear.
During a recent gallery visit, Williams explained his interest in film -- and film projectors -- as an art-making medium. Serendipitously, a supply house recently offered him 30 16-millimeter film projectors, which he stripped down and meticulously retooled, making them the burnished aluminum protagonists of his work.
"I gave an aesthetic to the retro projectors," Williams said. "They are now indeterminate in time and their existence. A sort of vision of the future from the past."
The more successful of the two installations is "Sighthouse." A large architectural structure created primarily from wood and aluminum that incorporates two 16-millimeter film projectors and one 35-millimeter slide projector, it suggests a vernacular-style home from rural America. On one wall is projected a stop-motion animation of an old upright piano being rapidly assembled and disassembled. Projected on top of this frenetic "flicker film" are words and phrases that evoke notions of time -- "persistently," "ad infinitum" and "soon enough."
The structure's roof morphs into a lighthouse mounted with a fog-making machine and 16-millimeter projector. As the gallery is blanketed in fog, out-of-focus color images sweep across the walls -- the only color in Williams' work.
"Sighthouse" is an idiosyncratic meditation on the relationship of place to the passage of time, as signified by the obsolescence of both lighthouses and 16-millimeter projectors in our GPS and digital camera age. Lighthouses are for seeing, yet we can see little. Painted in black, white and gray, the structure and the fog-laden gallery more than hint at the genre of film noir.
"Fenced In" is smaller in scale. A circular black picket fence is mounted with four retooled 16-millimeter projectors rigged with flash units. A single filmstrip loops through all four machines, projecting images of an overgrown back yard onto a small cube form at the center coated in phosphorescent paint. The viewer, like a voyeur, strains to see the tiny glowing images flashing on a five-second cycle.
Although curious, "Fenced In" seems more a work in progress than a resolved piece. We understand that the picket fence is black, not white, and that its circular footprint excludes us. But to what purpose or meaning is this basic irony?
Rounding out Williams' show are two stereoscopic wall-mounted works, inventive, thoughtful pieces that give the early days of stereoscopic photography a 21st-century facelift. In each, two silver prints are mounted at 90-degree angles from the wall. Between them is a "mirror array" into which the viewer peers and sees a single three-dimensional image. Like the vintage piano in "Sighthouse," these images depict an old desk, floorboards and a chair, or boots in a windowsill evoking an earlier time.
Collectively, Cesarco and Williams' work makes for a compelling visit, one that reveals how our intuition and our most abstract concepts can transform the ordinary into an unexpected and associative experience.