Videos offer an eyeful

"beamsplitters" rounds up works that put edge on light and image
by joseph gallivan for the portland (or) tribune

Video installation art: exposed cathode-ray tubes with wobbly images in dark corners of galleries, right?

Well here's a twist: Local art filmmakers Vanessa Renwick and Bill Daniel have curated "Beamsplitters," a show in which the video artists have to project their work through the air onto a surface, just like celluloid filmmakers do. The rise of the digital projector is partly responsible for the show. The tool, which works off a laptop or DVD player, originally was intended for corporate PowerPoint presentations but has been co-opted by any artist who can scrape together $1,000.

"It's a peace dividend," says Renwick, with a smile. Renwick, who is 41 going on 14, is known for her odd documentaries made under the moniker Oregon Department of Kick Ass. She says she used to be the "typical annoying artist" in the days when she worked in celluloid, insisting that galleries use complicated double projection systems to show her stuff. Now she's relaxed, a delegator, giving friends leeway to do the music, for instance, or describing what she wants while someone else edits her video on the computer.

For the show, which is part of the four-day Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival, Renwick is collaborating with Daniel on a work called "Driver's Lounge", which examines trucker graffiti. Daniel also will show another graffiti-related piece, called "The Girl on the Train in the Moon."

For the latter, spectators sit around on cinder blocks, as in a hobo jungle, watching two video loops. One is projected high on a circle of suspended frosted glass, which looks like the moon, the other on a rectangle representing a campfire.

Daniel rode the rails to get the stories and footage of the train graffiti that fascinated him. First off, it's not all done by tramps. One moon shot shows a Texas railroad worker called the Rambler elegantly drawing his tag, a curvy champagne glass.

Renwick and Daniel agree that because it has become so easy to make a video, there's a lot of self-indulgent rubbish out there. "Anything with mannequins" is Daniel's response when asked about clichés of the genre. What they like is: "Anything from the heart. People who are passionate about a subject and care enough to film it."

Portland being Portland, curating consisted of just asking their friends. "Friends whose work we like," Renwick qualifies.

Another artist, Phil Cooper, goes to great lengths to manipulate light beams, projecting them onto spinning plates that are studded with glass and mirrors, then to dome-shaped screens. Viewers are invited to step into the beams. The idea is to mess with the audience-versus-screen equation. The atmosphere in the old machine shop on Northwest 14th Avenue where the works will be shown promises to be lively and light, without the weight of an art gallery. In such a scene, celebrated video artist Bill Viola already would be considered an old fart.

Renwick and Daniel have been promised a 1999 work called "Eye" by Tony Ourseler, a New York-based pioneer of weird projection. "It's an eye projected onto a sphere with a soundtrack," Daniel says. "He just sent us a DVD and the specs. Someone builds the sphere, and we do the rest. He's throwing us a bone, but we're happy."