Sarah Beddington and Fritz Welch
Sarah Beddington and Fritz Welch
"Everyday life" is a weird term. We know exactly what we mean by it because we live it—it’s so simple—every day. But defining it in a meaningful way is surprisingly tricky. For French sociologist Henri Lefebvre, everyday life is, on the one hand, what is left over after you take out other subjects of study like ideology, politics, economics, and art, and, on the other hand, it is the category of experience where those forces have real effects: the field in which political, social, and cultural ideas are concretized. It is difficult to talk about everyday life, he said, and still be in it. It’s also difficult to make art about everyday life without being boring. Two artists at Momenta Art succeed with different tactics.
The four short, looped videos by British artist Sarah Beddington are not, according to the show’s press release, staged. On first viewing, one might make the opposite assumption: not only are the videos not staged, but possibly the artist has just left the camera running by itself. Instead of recording situations with immediate dramatic qualities, Beddington selects apparently trivial non-events: two motorized toy dogs walking on the carpeted floor of a toy store, the elevators in a hotel lobby in Las Vegas, shoppers in a store at night seen through a pane of glass. Because of the apparent lack of structure in the videos, the pleasure of watching them is in direct proportion to the effort on the part of the viewer to get them. This is very much like everyday life, which is usually more like a video camera left running than a tightly plotted feature film.
Beddington’s visual and narrative minimalism is a challenge for viewers to look very, very slowly. Once we adjust to the pace, the videos open up in a rewarding way. In "Invisible Woman," the action in the background of the scene is interrupted by cars passing in the street, separating the camera from the tableau of the store interior. With each flash of a car’s headlights, an entire scene behind the camera is revealed for a fraction of a second: the inside of a diner with a woman eating at a table, someone preparing food, someone ordering at a counter and then exiting. As more and more elements register, the duration of the loop and the sequence of events get harder and harder to determine, and the experience of watching the video becomes hypnotic, full of unexpected patterns and minute variations. Although there are plenty of references floating around in the works—the use of reflections and an iconography of Americana has a lot to do with photorealist painting of the sixties and seventies—the videos never really land on any one subject, except our tendency to project meaning onto any moving picture.
The centerpiece of artist/musician Fritz Welch’s half of the show is an over human-scale tower of white Styrofoam, which comes close to embodying the quality of shapelessness; it’s vaguely like a person, or a tree, or a building, or nothing. Sitting on one of its appendages is a roughly sculpted hollowed-out tree stump, represented with a stream of green, iridescent liquid generously pouring out onto the floor of the gallery. On the walls of the space are two defaced fashion posters with embracing couples obscured by the application of slick black ink, as well as a collaged drawing with half-decipherable text and the head of a woman with blond hair and whited-out eyes. This is all very gnomic until one looks up: a hand-lettered quotation from the Situationist writer Raoul Vaneigem’s 1967 work The Revolution of Everyday Life rings the wall above the other works, literally and conceptually framing the installation. The text, calling for a nameless revolution forged "in opposition to the specialists of revolution," suggests that we read Welch’s work as propaganda, but a peculiarly cryptic type that refuses to entirely explain its position. Welch seems to be tackling the problem of how to achieve an end of real social-political change through art while maintaining a sense of freedom and openness in the means; it will be interesting to watch as his campaign advances.