October 10, 2006

Art Fag City: The Mess of Mount Weather

The weekly column returns with a look at Cliff Evans' Web-crazy video collage

By Paddy Johnson

Cliff Evans is an emerging artist and filmmaker whose work is typically slated somewhere between experimental film and new media. His most recent work, a 15-minute video loop titled The Road to Mount Weather (currently on display at Location One in SoHo) continues in this vein, taking the form of a three-channel digital projection. Surfing the web, at times for over 18 hours a day, Evans has culled images from the Internet to create often stunningly beautiful collages that move in vertical and horizontal directions across the screen. The reconstruction and mutation of landscapes and figures is a central theme of the film, as is as a myriad of sophomoric conspiracy themes inspired by the web.

The trouble with The Road to Mount Weather, however, is that while the Internet may be a vast resource of juvenile creative energy, there is no point in simply rearticulating that in the form of a giant panorama. For all the great collage moments in this movie -- including the amusing fusion of the giant head of a bald eagle and two stubby bird feet with the opening gates of a football stadium, or the innovative use wallpaper as sky against a landscape of moving trees -- it is undone with a largely doom-and-gloom soundtrack and a variety of cliched scenes that include vibrating porn stars mounted on the tables of business men. Addtionally, the use of text in the video is appallingly bad, the worst appearing on a church sign reading:

You're Wrong
Let God Turn Your Head
Let God Burn You Dead

It's unclear if the artist penned these words as an imitation of text you might find online or if it is just appropriated, but either way, these are the sorts of search results you learn to filter out for a reason. The message barely makes any sense, and this is somehow supposed to be excusable because the work is meant only to be an approximation of fear and anxiety.

The Mount Weather press release will tell you that the Internet is a perfect medium to investigate such fears, host as it is to viral media and innumerable conspiracy theories. This may be true, but it's worth mentioning that none of the most popular images that propagate the Net made it into these scenes. Notably, there are no cats in this piece, nor are there any e-mails from the Ghanaian minister of finance seeking to split $25 million with "a friend." You can't fault a work for not including these things, but it does indicate that the viral media is less important to the final product than the artist and curator, Pieranna Cavalchini, would have us believe.

Gilbert and George, Flying Shit, 1994, Dyed photographic prints, 99 3/8 x 251 inches (Image copyright: Phaidon)

To my mind The Road to Mount Weather has much more in common with artists like Gilbert and George, who unironically sought to make their work accessible to the public in the 90's by creating photomontages of flying shit, urine and semen. Aesthetically, the pieces are very similar, and both artists undoubtedly share an interest in mock shock value. This, in conjunction with the conceptual ties to the popular conspiracy-based film narratives of the '50s (e.g. Invasion of the Body Snatchers or War of The Worlds), contextualizes the video projection in a way that makes a lot more sense to me. That said, I would observe that if an artist is evoking references the likes of Gilbert and George, you would be well advised to consider what that says about the work.

Paddy Johnson is the editor of the New York art blog Art Fag City.

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