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Art: Boredom is goal at Franklin Art Works show

vita.mn        February 7, 2008
By Gregory J. Scott


Photo courtesy of Tectonic Industries    

In eight years of programming at Franklin Art Works, “only three artists [have come] to my attention from blind submission,” said gallery director Tim Peterson, “and Tectonic Industries was the first.” Tectonic Industries — an uprooted European art partnership that now operates out of a studio in St. Paul’s Lowertown — does what great artists are supposed to do: They charm with the sheer cleverness of their ideas and then back them up with meticulously executed installations.

The duo — Helen Stringfellow, who hails from Newcastle, and her husband, Lars Jerlach, from Copenhagen — first caught Peterson’s eye in 2005 with the installation “My Wife Is So Proud of Me,” in which they painstakingly cataloged every scrap of rusted junk that turned up in an excavation of the yard surrounding a house they owned in Wisconsin. The project required a detailed record of the house’s history, a metal detector and five years of digging. Excessive scrutiny is their bag, and TI specializes in showcases of the excruciatingly mundane.

This month at Franklin Art Works, they’ve arranged a strange, postmodern dampening of the famed Hitchcock thriller “The Birds” — a project they’ve named “The Desire to Stay Vs. the Inevitability of Change.” Sixteen individuals were asked to sit silent and alone in their living rooms and watch a blank television screen, where the dialogue from the film appeared in subtitled form. Each viewer was assigned to a character in the movie, and when that character’s lines appeared on screen, the viewer would voice the dialogue in an intentionally passive, deadpan manner. A camera mounted on each viewer’s television filmed them throughout the two hours. Tectonic Industries displays the footage of each “actor,” unedited, on 16 monitors mounted on the gallery’s walls.

Per an official statement, TI would have viewers believe that “the work focuses on isolation, group mentality, collective conscience and popular culture” and “reveals nothing more than the inherent nature of artifice and reality that is at stake in the world of both film and video art.” But fragmentation seems to really be at the heart of the work. By disjointing the film into 16 disparate parts, like sunlight through a prism, the installation comments on the myth of the shared experience of moviegoing.

Despite sitting through the exact same film, each member of the audience takes away a unique set of memories, interpretations and impressions. “The Birds,” then, becomes not one story, but a spectrum of different stories in the minds of the viewers. And in the exhibit at Franklin Art Works, the film is literally fragmented into 16 very unique experiences.

Still, that doesn’t mean it will engross.

“It could be phenomenally dull,” Stringfellow warns. “There will be long periods where nothing happens.”

Jerlach concurs. “We’re not the type of people to get too emotionally involved in our art.”

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