International Herald Tribune

August 6th, 1999

Successful Video Takes Big Leap

By Ferdinand Protzman
Washington – Video art is a hot medium in Manhattan and elsewhere. Some important galleries show videos, and some important museums and private individuals have be­gun collecting them. So Troy­er Gallery’s inclusion of videos in its edgy group show titled “Momentum,” through Aug. 21, is most welcome.

It is a remarkable phenom­enon because a great deal of video art is awful — boring, incoherent, visually uninter­esting, technically weak and overly long — like a cross between bad TV, bad art and bad home video.

But when a video succeeds, like Michael Joseph’s “Above and Beyond,” which is the strongest piece in this terrific show, the viewer gets hooked into an experience that is unique, powerful and unlike any other art form.

Joseph, 32, a sculptor, photographer and video artist from New York shot the short piece which takes place on the Brooklyn Bridge earlier this year. In deceptively simple style, “Above and Beyond” documents a walk from Brooklyn toward Manhattan that takes a bizarre twist.

The hand-held camera bounces from side to side in step with Joseph’s stride as he trudges up the shadowed stairs to the bridge’s pede­strian walkway and heads to­ward the backdrop of sky­scrapers punctuating the horizon.

Joggers and other pedestrians flow past in both di­rections as the bridges sym­metry, grace and solidity frame the scene, which is set to a mix of music and ambient sound. Then, with a jump-cut, the everyday rhythms and vistas vanish. The camera looks out toward the harbor as Joseph walks along one of the bridge’ s mammoth support­ing girders. He reaches the end, aims the lens straight down at the East River, then lets the camera fall. It tumbles through space but continues functioning after splash­down, bobbing gently in the current, rising and falling in the same cadence as the artist’s stride. Then the screen goes black.

While suicide is the obvi­ous reference, Joseph’s video, which runs about five minutes, is so packed with beautiful evocative imagery on so many levels that it can’t be characterized as being just about taking one’s own life. It can, for example also be seen as an allegory for a young artist’s struggle to make the transition from Brooklyn to the big time.

There’s a certain dark hu­mor in watching the real-life New Yorkers on the bridge, so utterly self-absorbed that they don’t even notice the man with the video camera, let alone the glorious inter­play of light and shadow that is all around them. And in the end, there’s a hint of resur­rection. Just before the cam­era goes overboard, a small boat can he seen below the bridge. In it are friends of the artist. That camera lives on. 

Also on display is fine work from the five other artists. All are relatively young. and their work is promising.

Luisa Kazanas is a sculptor who uses a variety of indus­trial materials, including cast urethane, paint, wax, Plexiglas and gel caps to pro­duce glossy works that look like biological mutations based on American life in the late 1990s.

Rhona Bitner’s color pho­tographs from her series titled “Circus” revolve around the alienation of the individual in a mass society. Fragility can be seen in Kim Hunter’s ma­nipulated, black-and-white photographs of children. Sys­tems, both technical and aes­thetic, are the driving force in Haegeen Kim’s beautiful drawings on steel. The most overtly natural sculpture in the show is by Andrew Moe, who produces lively pieces full of energy and motion from wood, wire, reeds and steel.