BRADLEY EROS eau de cinema: constellations & contradictions
MICROSCOPE GALLERY | JUNE 13 – JULY 13, 2014
Bradley Eros’s newest show at Microscope Gallery continues the artist’s long-standing interest in cinematic essence. While the search for it might seem futile, Eros’s cogent attempt emphasizes multiplicity and collaboration, and thus downplays the need for a singular conclusion. Ultimately, eau de cinema highlights an often overlooked aspect of essence: surprisingly, it may be plural. The show then functions as an exploration, presenting works that contain multitudes and thus question, rather than define, what essence might be.
At the physical and conceptual center of the exhibition is “a duet (duel) of the centuries” (2014), an installation that neatly condenses the themes of Eros’s larger project. While the title suggests contestation and cooperation, the work proposes that their implied diametric positioning might not be absolute and that a re-conceptualization of that very relationship might be at the heart of what essence is.
The two main elements of the piece are digital and 16mm projectors that face each other from either side of the narrow gallery. As objects, the two are so dissimilar that it seems inaccurate to refer to them with the same word: on one side, a sleek black box hums as it hides its labor, while on the other moving parts churn nosily as the projector visibly works to transform light and film into movement. But even as the two conflict as they represent alternate forms of cinematic presentation, they also perform with one another, producing images that themselves are also the objects of the piece.
Continuous loops of 16mm film and single-channel video collide in the interstitial space between the projectors where two sheets of plexiglass descend from the gallery ceiling. As a result, an array of visual results fill the room: on the walls where the piece itself occludes the projections; on the plexiglass where otherwise invisible sites of passage become visible; on the projectors themselves, which now become the sites of projection; and in the blankness of a flat screen TV behind the digital projector, where a seemingly three-dimensional version of the entire scene materializes.
With no compositional focus, “a duet (duel) of the centuries” produces a multiplicity that seems at odds with refining processes that might otherwise be used to isolate essence. Rather than purify by taking away, Eros draws attention to the cumulative: how the individual morphemes make a sculptural whole and the mutually enforcing nature of process and product. Rather than a just a duel or a duet, the work is a cooperation, a dynamic and internally evolutionary process where multiple parts work with, play off of, and interact with each other to create the piece. Just as cinema is the visual end of many components—the light of the projector and the dust that Eros instructs should not be swept off the gallery floor; the filmmaker’s proscriptive decisions and the audience’s unpredictable reactions—so too is Eros’s exploration of essence equally about both parts and a whole.
In this way, the other works in the show are fundamental, as they further this line of thought. In addition to the main installation eau de cinema includes 11 collages that elaborate on the larger installation. For example, in “L’EAU: perfumed projectors btw stripped light” (2014) Eros turns two perfume bottles on their sides so they resemble projectors, placing stripped triangles at their facing nozzles; their contrasting lines visually clash as they connect, representing the meeting of streams of light. “The Angel of Avis” (2014), appropriates the left half of Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation” (1437 – 46), but covers Gabriel’s head with that of a yellow bird. The choice of medium for these works is significant. Rather than render his subject in a medium whose material similarity would help produce visual constancy, Eros chooses one in which each element retains vestiges of its former use, capitalizing on the interplay between past and current context that distinguishes collage as a medium. As these works conflate the imagery of perfume and cinema through collage, they suggest that the essence of cinema could be found in the particularities of their medium and that formal and compositional cooperation might illustrate the essence that Eros seeks.
What then is the essence of cinema? Eros seems to acknowledge the futility of this very question in choosing perfume as his centralizing metaphor. Perfume, like cinema, is dispersed as it’s used, producing fleeting but nonetheless evocative sensory experiences. However, in emphasizing multiplicity, Eros not only insists that there is some concrete essentialism to be found in this immaterial subject, but also that the search for it might rework the very assumptions of his question. Most important of all, eau de cinema crafts this complex understanding without pretention or opacity; a tremendous feat that should be celebrated alongside the artworks as an essential achievement of this fantastic show.
MAYA HARAKAWA is a Ph.D. student in art history at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and the social media manager of the Brooklyn Rail.