[Take a Hard Look at the Evidence] Numbers Up Brendan Lee BUS 2002
Numbers Up is an investigation of time and numbers in film. In this exhibition Brendan Lee has created an installation comprised of painted walls and partitions, cardboard boxes, a projected shadow, and a video surveillance monitor. In contrast to most video installations, the projection and monitor take the back seat, allowing the space to operate as a film set. However, this is more than a post-production tableau, in Numbers Up the action is taking place right before your eyes, being staged both on-scene and continuously generated in the random footage.
The recent work of Brendan Lee commonly appropriates the digital technology of random generation as a major component. In Cut to the Chase (1st Floor 2001) the car chase is reordered in a random selection, earlier text pieces such as Syntax (CCP 2000) were randomly generated also. The one work that stands out as being both technically and conceptually connected to Numbers Up is Apprehension of Immediate Danger (Westspace 2001). In Apprehension Lee catalogued the cinematic devices used to set up the viewer in the anticipation of a crime about to be perpetrated. Moreover, the random selection of the scenes from four distinct categories allowed us to acknowledge the effectiveness of the formula even when reconstituted from over 50 films. The happy marriage with Numbers Up is that random selection is based on coding, which brings us back to numbers- and even to the spectatorís primary task of decoding the traces, unscrambling the evidence, and establishing the missing links presented in the scene before us.
Video art itself has undergone a coming of age in recent times. No longer are viewers satisfied to consume video art purely for its aesthetic value, or as a new creative medium to be comprehended. The work of Gary Hill is an excellent example of the concept coming before the media, when you encounter work of Hill like Tall Ships (1992), the experience hauntingly outweighs the impressive outlay of technology. Still some confusion remains, particularly with the latest developments in digital video and the accessibility of a higher production quality. Are we to consider video as a documentary, or as a kind of short film? It is easy to merge into the darkened space and allow oneself to be immersed in a massive projection, but video becomes much more interesting when the screen takes second place to the subject at hand. When caught up in the thrill of a movie it is difficult to deconstruct the devices at play- this is the essence of cinemaís seduction- that we should suspend disbelief and be momentarily deceived by its psychological ploys. In a similar manner, Numbers Up is codified, plotted on a series of elements that are carefully concealed. This technique forces the viewer into a forensic role- of a detective searching for clues.
All of us are familiar with the genre of the crime scene- it has been done near to death- especially in installation art. Why is this the case? If we take a hard look at the evidence, we can see that the crime scene is the ultimate choice for an installation- not merely for its proliferation across all genres of popular culture (film, television dramas, newsreel footage and literature), but for its setting in the past tense. Most installations, like forensic photography, tend to recreate a scenario, or document a moment or site of action as having already taken place. In Numbers Up (and in many other contemporary works by other artists) we see installation art and video art intertwining with the nature of cinema, and screen culture in general. As a result- space in installation art has frequently become the site of action so that the spectator wandering through the gallery is engaged in a drama unfolding- no less time based than film- just a different set of numbers. Whose number is up? You know I canít give that away! Which leaves you with the task of collecting the evidence, decoding the clues, and of seeking out the answers in this site of ongoing sabotage.
L.H. October 2002