The object of memory is only an object imagined in the past to which the emotion of belief adheres" -- William James, Principles of Psychology, 1890.
William James, that perfectly beautiful, sadly outmoded type of intellectual (he was a psychologist, an artist, a philosopher and a scientist), would have had a wonderful time with Carol Hodson's latest projects. James devoted himself to understanding thought and memory, believing that consciousness runs in streams and that truth is relative and contingent. Hodson's works, like James' inquiries, wander around in the fascinating terrain between memory and belief, between the here and the now. An exhibition of Hodson's recent work, The Stillness in Between, is on view at Three Sinks Gallery in Webster Groves.
What you'll see at the gallery is only part of a larger series of related works that have been and will be in progress for some time. Though this show is quite small, it encapsulates many of the larger ideas that inspire Hodson and inform her work. Occupying one wall of the gallery is "The Stillness in Between" (2000), a series of alternating images and texts arranged at eye level, printed so small that they draw the viewer into intimate proximity.
The texts are distillations of thoughts and memories, each with a startling sense of palpable reality and visual clarity. The first text sets the stage: "I used to dream of a vicious black dog trapped in a white house with a picket fence. One night while I slept the black dog transformed itself into a white wolf. The next day, I bought a white dog. A year later, I bought a white house with a picket fence."
That house -- Hodson's own house, in Webster Groves -- becomes the leitmotif for the entire exhibition. All of the other images in this work come from video footage Hodson has taken within two blocks of her home. The texts form no cohesive narrative, and the images are both eerie and banal -- combined, they nicely evoke life experience in all its lush absurdity.
Rounding out the exhibition is a series of small houses titled "Home and Away" (2001). The little structures are icons of "home," but each one simultaneously sends us "away," for their exterior walls are covered by photographs Hodson has brought back from such far-flung places as Turkey, Thailand and Italy. Which house represents which specific place? It's hard to tell. Hodson's pieces remind us that places are as conceptual as they are actual and that it is indeed possible to be in two places at once.
The Stillness in Between opened on May 11 with a performance of another aspect of "Home and Away," a video projection with music composed by Hodson's collaborator Dan Rubright and performed by Rubright and three other musicians. If you missed the performance, the text on the wall gives a hint of what it contained: "With an almost imperceptible slowness, the white house fades to gray. Occasionally freight trains pass, but despite their rumble and fury, I now know that the real drama exists in the stillness in between."
Between shots of the house and passing trains are inserted five segments that might best be described as streams or passages. Subtle and beautiful, these passages show scenes of lush visuality: sledding in a crystal-white field; bonfires on a crisp, starry night; the moon as seen from a swiftly moving train. Hodson describes them as memories of dreams that never really occurred. They take place in that indeterminate space in between.
Though "Home and Away" will not be performed again at this exhibition, the project carries on. Hodson and Rubright plan to expand on the work, adding new music and footage for a performance in St. Louis next spring; after that, the work will travel to Sofia, Bulgaria. Count on the piece to be in a constant state of change, and count on Hodson to be constantly at work, adding, subtracting, transforming. As William James has observed, "Every thought occurs in a mind modified by every previous thought." Hodson's art bears this out: nothing in her work is the same way twice. There is no permanence, only flux and streams of dreams that might have been your own.
Across town at the St. Louis Art Museum, Currents 84: Christian Marclay finally gives St. Louisans a chance to see work by this extremely perceptive technician who specializes in manipulating slightly outmoded audio and video mediums, often to hilarious, biting effect. Unfortunately, the show presents too limited a picture of Marclay's work, and he comes off as a narrower artist than he actually is.
This exhibition includes five pieces -- one wall text and four pieces involving video, audio tracks and televisions. "Telephones" (1995) is Marclay's "big hit" breakthrough piece, a seven-and-a-half-minute meditation on the phone as narrative device of noncommunication in Hollywood films. It begins with film characters dialing or stabbing out phone numbers, attempting to make human contact. The next phase in the tape shows phones ringing, destroying the calm. Then, characters begin to speak: "Hello?" they cry. Barbara Stanwyck pleads, "Hello? Hello?" Other characters, from dozens of different films, continue: "We're all fine." "I told you not to call here." "I haven't been able to think or concentrate on anything but you." The editing is brilliant -- scenes are woven together as if they're part of one big, dysfunctional conversation. The video ends with everyone hanging up.
"Up and Out" (1998) is one of those now-why-didn't-I-think-of-that? kind of works: Marclay has dubbed the audio from Brian De Palma's 1981 film Blow Out over the video track of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow Up. Most movie fans know that these films are ruminations on the power of sound and image, respectively, and that DePalma's film consciously references Antonioni's. Snobs will figure out the catch of "Up and Out" and move on. But it pays to watch for a while. The video-audio combination makes for an uncanny effect -- the tracks often seem as if they're perfectly in sync, which is quite surreal. When they're not in sync, the effect is, at the very least, quite humorous.
"Blind Television (Hitachi)" (2000) is slightly more disturbing. Marclay has replaced the picture tube of a 1985 Hitachi television with a gold-toned convex mirror. The sound of a car race blares from the little speaker in the TV's chassis, but looking in the screen, all you see is yourself, unmoving, appearing fatter for the mirror's convexity. It's a wry (and depressing) observation on viewing and inertia.
Besides putting together clever, artful video pieces, Marclay -- a Swiss-born, New York-based artist -- has made a name for himself since the early 1980s as a musician and performance and installation artist. Music cognoscenti will probably be familiar with his records (re-released recently on CD), including "More Encores" from 1988 and "Records 1981-89," a compilation of his audio work released by Chicago's Atavistic Records. In his audio, as in his video and performances, Marclay chooses to concentrate on low-tech effects and techniques involving things such as vinyl and magnetic tape. And he still manages to make more revealing commentaries on contemporary culture than his high-tech digital counterparts. It's a shame that more of this couldn't have been included in the Currents show, which introduces the audience to only a portion of what Marclay is all about.