Motion: An Exhibition of Essentialist Film and Video. The 58th Exhibition of Central New York Artists

Publication Type:





Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY (1999)




"The 58th Exhibition of Central New York Artists was devoted to video, film and multimedia projects - genres that have informed the work of a generation of artists - and the significant role that upstate artists, schools and organizations have played in pioneering and nurturing these no longer new media." Mary E. Murray, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute.

Museum of Art, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York
Exhibition Dates:
October 2, 1999-January 2, 2000
Full Text: 


Catalogue essay from the exhibition at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica New York. October 1999-January 2000. By John Knecht, guest curator.

The first motion picture sequence that I can remember seeing was a shot of cardboard boxes moving on a conveyer belt from left to right. The film was black and white and projected on a portable screen erected in the front of a classroom in the basement of a church in rural Wisconsin. This was were I went to elementary school. I must have been in the second or third grade at the time. I presume now that the film screened that day was a promotional piece from one of the paper mills that were located not far from where I grew up; and that it was used by the teacher to fill up the portion of a Friday afternoon that remained after the memorized hymns were recited. I can't remember anything else about the film; just that line of moving boxes. I can still visualize the sequence of blank gray rectangles going by one after another. This was around the same time when I also remember walking through the living room of our apartment above my parent's butcher shop, and seeing the television images of what I now know was the Army McCarthy hearings that were broadcast nationally by ABC in 1954. As I remember it, I saw this in the afternoon; maybe it was after school of the same day that I saw the moving boxes; but that is probably stretching it. I can remember quite clearly a fragmented sequence of Senator McCarthy's face in the glass rectangle. The television images had an urgency about them. I could tell that. Like the boxes in the film, there was no context. These two events are at the base of my awareness of form and content. In this exhibition I have selected work that approaches motion pictures on an essential level. And at the essentialist level there seems to be a sense of sequence and urgency.

The cinema that I love, that I like to look at early in the morning or late at night, alone in quiet times when viewing and perception is optimum, is a cinema that functions purely as a display of images parading one in front of the other in sequence. I could make a loop of the loop of Leger's landlady carrying the bag of laundry up the stairs in his 1924 film Ballet Mechanique and be quite satisfied watching it over and over. Does she ever get to the top? Whose laundry is it anyway? What is her name? These things are less important to Leger and me, than the dance of her delivery. I do care about content. I have wondered many times about the identity of those factory workers as they keep leaving the Lumiere factory over and over again. Whose dog is that? Why is that woman wearing that hat? Was the man with the bicycle a wise guy? What started out as an exit for a lunch break on a sunny day in 1895 has become a voyage to infinity.

The inherent physical characteristics of chemical film, magnetic video and digital electronics function as models of synaptic information transfer; moving things in a linear path from the eye to the brain. There they go like ducks in a row. There is a good old fashioned dialectic operating here that places the buzz and snap of the ever increasingly cybernetic nervous system of the raster and the field with the passion that I have for nineteenth century, essentialist, frame by frame movement of images slowly prodding through time. MOTION is the synthesis of that dialectic.

All of this is a very Heidigarian consideration of art, mired in a compulsive and analytical modernism. So be it. History repeats itself. The content of the works in this exhibition is closely dependent on the specific material that is used in the manifestation of these individual works. In this exhibition you will see things as they are and not as they seem to be.

While this exhibition is being called a regional exhibition comprised of work made by artists who have or have had a connection to Central New York, it is not intended in any way to serve as an inclusive survey of the film, video or digital art from this area of the state. While no other region of the country has contributed so densely and so richly to the development of experimental cinema as has Central New York State, not all of these contributions and not all of these artists are represented here. Conspicuously absent is work from the communities surrounding the current Media Studies program at Syracuse University, the pioneering video work of Synapse, the Everson Museum, and the long standing media activity coming from the Ithaca community and Ithaca College. Perhaps an even more obvious absence here is the historically important film work of Hollis Frampton, Robert Huot and Larry Gottheim. These three artists have made major works over a span of the past thirty years which addresses the essentialist theme expressed in this exhibition. There are a number of reasons for these absences. My intention in selecting work for MOTION was to make an exhibition that functioned as a cohesive display of artwork that had at its base the essentialist characteristics of cinema that I described above. I also wanted to feature work in this exhibition which, while not necessarily new in terms of production dates, was new to the Utica and the surrounding community. I was conscious from the start of the 48th Annual Regional Exhibition that was curated by Scott MacDonald in 1986. That exhibition which was subtitled: Recent Filmmaking in Central New York, included definitive examples of work by Frampton, Gottheim, Huot and others. Although it was tempting at times, I tried hard not to duplicate work included in that significant, earlier exhibition..

Work selected for the Exhibition:

All of the artists represented in this exhibition have lived and worked in the Central New York region.

In curating MOTION I have selected cinematic art works that are intended for installation within the galleries of the Institute. I am fond of the architectural notion of place making. I have attempted to transform the lower galleries and courtyard of the Munson Williams Proctor Institute into a place of essential motion. For the most part the art included in the exhibition is para-cinematic. The work is based within the essential parameters of the motion picture, but with one exception, they are not manifested as projections in the usual theatrical format consisting of a screen in front of seated spectators. That one exception is a screening of films by Peter Hutton who lives in Annandale-On-Hudson and teaches at Bard College. Peter's films belong in this exhibition specifically because of his work with the Hudson River landscape which so parallels the subject matter and concern for luminosity evident in the Institute's important collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century American painting.

Along with Peter Hutton, the artist that immediately came to my mind when I was approached about doing this exhibition was Ken Jacobs. Ken's work is the paradigm for an essentialist approach to cinema. His 1966 film Tom Tom The Piper's Son in which he re-photographically examines each frame of a 1908, single camera film, is the quintessential meditation on early, pre-Griffith cinema. His work continues to examine and re-consider the optic phenomena of the earliest moving images and the devices used to create the illusion. Ken has created for MOTION a series of motorized thaumatropes which celebrate the phenomenon of the persistence of vision, that aspect of the human nervous system which allows us to retain and organize rapid image sequences which are then interpreted by our brain as naturally appearing locomotion. Ken's teaching at the State University of New York at Binghamton over the past three decades is legendary. Out of his Binghamton classes have come some of the most prolific and creative artists of a whole generation of experimental filmmakers in this country.

Following the tradition of Edweard Muybrige and Jules Etiene Marey Heidi Kumao comes to the motion picture from her work as a photographer whose experiments with sequence lead to mechanical invention. In Heidi Kumao's work we not only watch the moving images on the wall but also participate in a celebration of the projection apparatus. Some times Rube Goldbergian in their construction these apparatuses can be appreciated for their whimsy while the images that are their product can appear as icons and indexes of the human experience. Heidi became an active part of the Central New York Community during her days of teaching photography at the Art Media Studies Program at Syracuse University in the early nineties.

Les LeVeque's Flight has been screened as a single channel video, a 16mm film and in two different versions of a multiple channel installation. What is significant here in this work is the irony that exists as synthetic meaning from the dialectical collision of hi-tech stumbling. Like much of Les' video and installation work over the past decade, Flight's depiction of an astronaut tripping over a rock on the surface of the moon takes a critical look at institutional technology and brings suspect to its benevolence. Les lived and worked in Central New York for a decade during which time he completed a graduate degree in the Art Media Studies Department at Syracuse and subsequently taught at Colgate University in Hamilton.

Daniella Dooling's spinning trip around a SOHO fashion salon in her 1998 video Whirling (made in conjunction with Les LeVeque) is a symbolic whirl of delirium and psychosis. For the past several years Daniella has been making objects and images that recall her adolescent overdose on LSD. The whirl and the twirl are hallucinogenic and discomforting in the illusion of groundlessness. Whirl is the only work in the exhibiton which is about media movement and performace.

Carol Kinne's Small Drama Series flipbooks provide a direct interactive interface between the viewer and the motion picture technology. These digitally made bound pages demonstrate better than anything else in the exhibition the relationship of the animate to the inanimate. Carol has been making digital art since the days when the only computers available were the spring loaded kind with large wind up keys protruding from the side of the beige, plastic box. Carol teaches combined media and other courses at Colgate University where she also coordinates the digital image lab in the Department of Art and Art History.

Ralph Hocking's digital Digging installation conjures up an essential image of human locomotion that is the result of yet another ironic, dialectical model of hi-technology and simple, un-assuming, human activity. Ralph is a video pioneer who has been making art with electronic image making systems since the mid-nineteen sixties; or, in other words from the very first days when artists began to experiment with electronic technology. Ralph's teaching at SUNY Binghamton led to his founding of the Experimental Television Center in Owego in 1969.

Neil Zusman's 1999 Mouse Dance takes MOTION to the ether of the internet with an interactive web site. Neil has been working with digital animation since the early eighties. In Mouse Dance the viewer controls the speed, direction and rhythms of the work.

Tapes from the Experimental Television Center:

The tapes selected to be exhibited in an on-going single channel screening for the exhibition have all been produced at the Experimental Television Center in Owego. While the tapes cover a production range that dates from the early eighties to the late nineties, the work has all been selected for the artist's concentration on direct video signal manipulation. I have chosen a total of four tapes by four artists, (two of whom represent a collaborative team), out of the hundreds of tapes that have been produced at ETC over the past thirty years. Again my choices were based on the desire to make a place in the gallery that celebrates the essentialism of movement. With these tapes I also want to celebrate the Experimental Television Center and draw attention to the important position that it holds as a service to the field. Sherry Miller Hocking, the Executive Director of the ETC was a tremendous help to me in selecting this single channel work.

Peer Bode has been an artist in resident at the ETC since 1972. He has been working with signal bending, movement video from the earliest days. His tapes Vibratory Sweep and Invented Eye are raster dances that represent the process of drawing with light that ETC has pioneered. Peer's teaching and leadership in the Video Arts program and the recently founded Institute For Electronic Arts at Alfred University has been a model of energy and arts activism in the state of New York for some time.

Matthew Schlanger's tape Lumpy Banger functions like a small, comically erotic jewel of radiated light. The color is video color. The experience is sci-fi. If there is any fun in this exhibition, it is in this one minute four second L.B. projection.

Connie Coleman and Alan Powell's Hot Pink is very hot and very pink. The layering of pink mouths through the use of the jury-rigged processors at the ETC and the pulsing of the puckered lips have the lusciousness of forbidden fruit. This is very sticky eye candy that drips from the screen. Don't get nervous it is just a movie.

John Knecht, Hamilton, New York, 1999