Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Steve MacDonald; swipple 01/08; Cargo ships
Communication, attempts at communication, or the mutability of communication are recurring motifs in Steve's work. Through his photography, sculpture, and films, the message is always at least in part the transmission of messages.
In Bay Crossing (a film which documents the artist crossing the San Francisco Bay in a home made rowboat), the story is told through recorded telephone conversations between Steve and various representatives of local agencies (Coast Guard, Parks and Recreation, etc.). This dialogue runs the length of the film, and overlays the visual footage of the actual crossing in progress. Thus we witness the "real" event while listening to Steve attempt to explain his plans for the event (which are for the most part met with - at best skepticism, and sometimes alarm). This juxtaposition provides more than the (sweet) irony of being cautioned not to do something while doing it; it highlights the ambiguity of communication - I say one thing, you hear another. Of course Steve is aware of this, and his deadpan inquisitiveness is the perfect foil for the bureaucratic mindset on the other end of the line. We know that he knows communication is slippery business. The visual quality of the film, washed out super8 footage which simply presents us with the repetitive act of rowing the boat, is contrasted with the immediacy and specifics of the telephone dialogue. This fleeting sense of meaning, and misunderstanding, strikes a chord familiar in Steve's work: funny, yes, but not without a touch of longing and melancholy.
Another of Steve's films, Can-String Telephone, employs an elaborately constructed imaginary world of can-string-telephone technology, including answering machines that record on wax cylinders and cell phones that use kites to transmit their signal. A tragic love story of crossed signals and missed messages, the film is narrated in French for a protagonist who doesn't speak French, so language acts dually here as cliche as well as barrier. The subject of communication is here played out through plausibly constructed yet ultimately failed systems of communication - systems that were perhaps once hoped to enhance a connection, are revealed as undermining it.
There is a photograph of Steve's that documents one of his early exhibits. In it, a painting is hanging on the side of a rental truck, parked on the street. Next to it is a sign which reads "Art Show." I think the story was that he got kicked out of a show somewhere, and instead of packing it in he rented the truck and parked it out in front of the museum, filled with the work he had made for the show. I always liked what that said about Steve's fortitude and determination, but what really strikes me as significant is how this photograph, and the event it documents, seems to set the stage for so much of his subsequent work. Steve seems committed to exploring both the necessity, as well as the folly, of attempts at communication. And in this photo he seems to be saying, "ok, you don't get it that way, maybe like this?"
Plywood cuckoo-clocks and power lines made of thread, can-string telecommunications and home made boats - sure, it's funny. But the novel design and careful construction of these objects tells us that they are more than just a joke. They are also a sincere attempt to bridge the gap, and not just comment on it - from someone who cares.
Found Here: http://www.swipple.com/exhibit.php?id=192