Video feeds allow viewers to see themselves in various sizes: upside down, right-side up, magnified, miniaturized, melting together and sliding apart at James Harris Gallery in Seattle.
We’ve all got a bit of a narcissist in us, even if we don’t like what we see in the mirror. When we see images of ourselves in a shop-window reflection or on a bank surveillance camera, we can’t help asking, “Is that what I really look like?”
In “Dream Stop,” Seattle video artist Gary Hill — who had a career-crowning retrospective at the Henry Art Gallery in 2012 — takes that self-monitoring impulse and atomizes it in spectacular fashion.
The show’s title work uses 31 tiny video feeds, concealed in a large circular aluminum frame suspended from the ceiling, to splinter gallery visitors into 31 overlapping images of themselves. Walk around its mandala-like centerpiece and, on various quadrants of the gallery walls, you’ll see multiple strolling versions of yourself from various angles in various sizes: upside down, right-side up, magnified, miniaturized, melting together, sliding apart.
Gary Hill: ‘Dream Stop’
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays through Aug. 26, James Harris Gallery, 604 Second Ave., Seattle; free (206-903-6220 or jamesharrisgallery.com).
The one thing you won’t get is a straightforward shot of yourself.
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Other video installations in the show distort the viewer to an even greater degree.
In “Painting with Two Balls (after Jasper Johns),” two minuscule video cameras, embedded in an aluminum strip, serve as the “balls” of the title. They translate the viewer into cones of light so extreme that they scarcely resemble human figures. The light cones and aluminum strip echo Johns’ original 1960 encaustic-and-collage work, in which two ball bearings, squeezed into a crevice in the canvas, serve as literal-minded interlopers in an otherwise abstract-expressionist flight of fancy.
“Tripyramid” also uses two live camera feeds to produce two narrow fans of light, as they transform the viewer’s body into sharp-angled spectrums of color. Between them is a slim, skin-colored triangle of light: the artist’s own nude body with all identifiable traces of his anatomy removed, leaving you with something quivering and alive — but defiantly non-depictive.
Five peepshow-like contraptions offer more of a one-on-one experience. Titled “Self (A),” “Self (B),” et cetera, they consist of spyhole video devices mounted on a wall. “Self (A)” is the simplest. You peer into it, expecting to see an image of yourself. And you do — a live feed of your body at chest level.
“Self (C)” and “Self (D)” are more complicated. The cameras in “(C)” catch you at three angles: jaw-level left, jaw-level right and the top of your head. The video feed repeatedly rotates through these with a clock-like ticking sound.
“(D)” does something similar with four camera feeds. But there’s another subtly disorienting element in play. One of the four feeds is mirror-reversed in-camera, making it seem as if you have two left sides to your face but no right side. “Self (F)” messes with your entire body — chest, crotch, shins — in a similar manner.
It’s possible, as the wall texts suggest, to see “Dream Show” as a caustic and cautionary comment on the surveillance society we inhabit — whether it’s the self-surveillance that drives social media or the security-camera network that tracks us in an ever-growing number of public venues.
You can also just see the show as a high-tech funhouse mirror-maze — one that sabotages our sense of ourselves and our surroundings and, in the process, highlights how fragile and ephemeral our senses of self and surroundings are.
One quibble: The show’s title piece really needs to be seen in total darkness, impossible to achieve in a storefront gallery. Let’s hope some museum snaps it up and gives it its own black-box setting to show it to its best advantage.