No Chasm, No Cleft: Under the Spell of Brendan Jansen
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the opening of Brendan Jansen‘s No Chasm, No Cleft at Crawl Space, and was immediately won over by the insistent weirdness of his fragmented video works. Yesterday afternoon I revisited them and spent a little more time in the quiet, meditative darkness of the gallery, allowing them an opportunity to work their spell. Only now will I attempt the clumsy dance of attempting to force my impressions of the work into words.
(Note: All of the representations of Jansen’s work in this post are video stills. I have not been able to find samples of his moving pictures online, but obviously these must be seen in action to be properly appreciated. Here’s hoping the artist throws us a digital bone!)
So, I’m one of those people who would love to be interested in video art but very seldom sees anything that gives me that visceral punch I get from looking at a beautifully executed object. For me, Jansen’s videos have that punch. Part of this, I assume, stems from the fact that they are not “videos” in any traditional sense but rather animations created from composite photographs taken from slightly different angles and carefully stitched together by hand. From the exhibition’s press release:
…Jansen explores the space between pre-mediated experience and the choices that presuppose modes of depiction.
The visual effect hovers somewhere between the photographic work of fellow UW alum Drew Daly and the stuttering video passages of the venerable Martin Arnold. (Further afield in the realm of music, Terry Riley’s epic track You’re No Good employs a very similar technique on audio source material to transcendental ends.)
Jansen’s videos Broken Cone and Almost Empty Room make the most straightforward use of his slicing and editing techniques, resulting in semi-holographic moving illusions that remind me of a slightly more enchanting version of the “scanimation” technique used in a series of popular children’s books. But three of the works in the show—Oedipus Whatever, a three-dimensional photograph of the artist’s infant son collapsing into an uncanny cycloptic self portrait; thinkingdeeplyaboutimportantthings, a rotating skull made of concentric fragments arranged according to an exploded geometry reminiscent of Klüver’s form constants; and no chasm no cleft (Chaco Canyon), a rocky landscape transformed into a glitchy, minimalist field of rippling potentiality—manage to set off secret fireworks in that deep part of my brain reserved for those encounters with the slippery, subjective experience of That Which Transcends Language that have given my humble blog its name.
The exhibition title’s elusive reference to the mysterious properties of the Delphic Oracle of ancient Greece reflects the postclassical attempts to establish that the underlying cause of the visions experienced by the priestess of the Oracle was due to the inhalation of ethylene vapors (or a similar intoxicant) from a chasm or fault hidden beneath the temple’s foundation. While the keys to the kingdom of non-standard awareness are many and varied, Jansen has hit on a hierophantic formula that works: the rapid left-right rotation about a stationary axis, combined with the endurance all this flashing repetition and uncanny, unsettling imagery may serve—if we allow ourselves to be hypnotized—as an induction into a perceptual trance in which the minimal, universalist content of the videos (birth, death, the collapsing of ideas into form; of form into the annihilation of temporality…) may be understood as the vehicle for an even more transcendent message, which I interpret as the act of tricking the brain into beholding the kind of math it’s made of. Brendan Jansen’s work isn’t so much about the idea of how perception is structured as the physical record of the artist’s own self-discovery of these processes at work. Thankfully, it works for me as well.
No Chasm, No Cleft is installed at Crawl Space through Oct. 11. If you find your taste and interests aligned with mine, I recommend you don’t miss it!