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Cameras and conceptualism


Nicky Hoberman’s (South African, b.1967), Whoopee Pie IV, 2011, at Steven Vail Fine Arts – Project Room is part of the current “Sourced” exhibition.

Conceptual artist Thomas Demand built his considerable reputation photographing paper models of mostly famous places — the New York City hotel room where L. Ron Hubbard created Scientology, the studio of Jackson Pollock, the podium from which Slobodan Milošević gave his most infamous speech, the hole where Saddam Hussein was captured and the Fukushima Daiichi control room where Japanese scientists faced certain death to save others from nuclear meltdown.                

The Des Moines Art Center is currently exhibiting “Animations,” Demand’s first-ever, video-only show. The centerpiece is the 100-second-long video, “Pacific Sun,” shot from a model Demand built (with 12 Walt Disney animators for more than three months) to resemble a dining room on a New Zealand cruise ship being rocked by heavy seas. Because the event being recreated caused little injury and no deaths, why would Demand spend so much time and effort on this relatively trivial subject?                

“I am obsessive, but I loved the choreography of the event. At first, I thought it was slapstick — one object is made to suggest Buster Keaton. Then by trying to analyze the movement, I realized that it had commonality with science. We were doing the same thing that those who study tsunamis, earthquakes and wave/particle duality do,” he answered.                

Because the video appealed to the scientist Demand, he realized mid-project that he needed to film 240 frames per second, not the standard 120 of most animation.                

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“It looked too much like slapstick at 120. I didn’t want that. I wanted a beautiful dance,” he explained.                

The sound of furniture sliding back and forth across the ship was created by rolling petrified oranges in a crate. Similarly, the soundtrack in “Rain” was made by recording eggs frying in a considerable amount of grease. That video shows candy wrappers being shot through layers of glass. A third video, “Camera,” shot a paper model surveillance camera resembling one Demand saw in a Brazilian airport. Its soundtrack took Portuguese announcements and muddled them into babble that Demand calls “the voice of Big Brother.”                

At Steven Vail Fine Arts, prints by local artists Jeremiah Elbel and Phillip Chen join those of 13 internationally famous artists in the exhibition “Sourced.”                

“Jeremiah and Phillip not only hold their own in this company, in many ways they are technically more ambitious,” said curator Breianna Cochran.                

Much like Demand’s work, all “Sourced” prints either incorporate photography or were inspired by it. Elbel’s dramatic charcoal rubbing was modeled after a photo of self-immolation, perhaps the one that inspired Arab Spring. (Elbel won’t say.) Chen’s two etchings link his father and the gangster John Dillinger, who employed him. Blueprints of a Colt .45, Chinese restaurant trappings and an abacus are superimposed over a photo of the elder Chen’s apron and jacket. In the other half of the work, Chen created a death mask portrait of Dillinger using software that plastic surgeons employ.               

Also in the show: Mel Ramos’ take on a Velasquez nude, with the subject looking into a mirror reflecting a photo that looks like Christy Brinkley; Carmen Calvo blindfolding a 19th-century Spanish solidier with a beheaded Barbie doll; Nicky Hoberman’s disturbing study of pubescence; Brian Alfred’s dramatic rendering of a woman in front of his work in an Israeli museum, inexplicably blindfolded; Silvie Fleury’s marvelously accessorized corpse arm sticking out of a car trunk; Vik Munoz’s self portrait made entirely out of paper punches; John Baldessari’s depiction of a human arm fighting with a python; Donald Sultan’s choreography of cigar smoke rings; Eric Fischl’s rhythmic nude dancers; Graciela Sacco’s slingshots and Yankee caps in an Argentine protest; Jane Dickson’s homage to American neon; Julian Schnabel’s musing on old postcards; and Joe Andoe’s celebration of horses. CV

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