Artist Gabriel Shalom Turns Chopping Carrots Into A Cinematic Experience
Through glitch, distortion, and video manipulation the creator transforms the mundane into the extraordinary.
Wash Choose Peel Chop Rinse installation, KiKK Festival & Exhibition – Namur, Belgium (2013)
Gabriel Shalom will change the way you look at vegetable soup and editing. His work includes experimental narrative and documentary (as creative director of KS12), as well as “videomusic”–a technique in which video is rhythmically edited to create a musical composition. Recently The Creators Project met with Shalom to briefly discuss the connection between his work and the early video avant-garde, who also used non-linear editing and altered frame rates to create psychedelic effects that dissolve or distend the moment.
Shalom works with designers, musicians, dancers and programmers to create artworks which always return or refer to the video medium. I asked him about the connection between his work and the work of seminal members of the early video avant-garde, who also used non-linear editing and altered frame rates to create psychedelic effects that dissolve or distend the moment.
The Creator’s Project: In your video wash choose peel chop rinse, the frame captures a close-up of a domestic, mundane activity-- but the timeline is a frenetic, rhythmic, staccato--placing the minutia of sounds and visual textures into a new percussive context. Each individual frame is unremarkable--what makes this piece interesting is the ability of your video editing process itself to pick out shattered fragments more minute than our normal ability to perceive duration.
Chop, print (detail)
The effect is as surprising as those first stroboscopic still images by Harold Eugene Edgerton must have been--a bullet seemingly stopped in its path and so forth. Edgerton, who was at MIT at the time, was the first person to employ super high-speed film with stroboscopic flash – which allowed very fast motion to be frozen with no motion blur or distortion.
On first viewing of this piece I was immediately reminded of Tony Conrad’s The Flicker; a film in which the “action” is the structure of film itself, reduced to the essentials of on/off or light/dark at a rate that takes advantage of the human eye’s ability to stitch together individual images into what seems like seamless action. When it was first screened, Conrad’s Flicker was called “visual LSD” and blamed for epileptic seizures. Now, of course, the Flicker is considered the earliest “structural” film.
It’s also interesting to view wash choose peel chop rinse alongside Jake Kassay’s Untitled, a 16mm film in which a hovering helicopter’s blades synch with the shutter speed of the projector, causing (spoiler alert) an effect of total stasis.
What were your influences in making these early examples of “video music”? Were you inspired by the practical possibilities and potential of editing tools, or by structural concerns? Or both?
Gabriel Shalom: What sets wash choose peel chop rinse (2011) apart from my early work (Small Room Tango, 2004; House, 2005; Beardbox, 2009) is that it was the first time I employed granular synthesis in my compositions. This brought me into confrontation with frame rates in an interesting way, because most of what happens at a granular level is on a micro time scale that occurs at less than two frames per second. Thus the sort of arrested movement which is present in Jake Kassay’s work is also a potentiality of wash choose peel chop rinse. There is a narrativity to my approach to granular synthesis; I want the audience to be able to understand the origin of the synthetic sound as it arises from the concrete sound. I’m basically saying: here’s this object which makes sounds like this – sounds you know from the everyday – and if you loop it real fine and small it makes these other unusual sounds – sounds that sound like a synthesizer.
It’s interesting you mention Tony Conrad because one of my important influences was getting to know Woody and Steina Vasulka [the Vasulkas taught at the SUNY Buffalo’s groundbreaking early Media Study program, and invented some of the first video sythesizers] during my residency at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. At the time the Vasulkas were organizing this huge Buffalo show called MindFrames and Tony actually came out to perform at the opening. I remember at the time I was having conversations with Steina about frame rates – like, how come they still don’t make consumer video cameras with high frame rates (this was 2006, before things like the GoPro were affordable or you might be able to rent a Phantom) and her reply was something charming and conspiratorial – about how the government didn’t want us to have super high frame rates because they were worried it would be too realistic.
On the more formal side, one critical influence on my approach to wash choose peel chop rinse was the work of the Austrian artist Martin Arnold and his beautiful experimental film Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy. I found the way he manipulated the sound and image on a frame by frame level absolutely intoxicating.
Despite all these experimental influences, I would say there is still a strong undercurrent of pop in my compositional approach. For instance, each movement of wash choose peel chop rinse resolves in a groove, tying the loose concrete and granular elements together into funky breaks. Generally I find that I like to oscillate between more serious and experimental approaches and approaches which are overtly pop and even danceable.
Had you seen much of the Vasulkas’ video work at that time that you were at ZKM? The works that I am most familiar with are the ones Tony Conrad screened as part of his “Video Art Analysis” course – mostly early video synthesizer works like Violin Power and Reminiscence that envisioned an extended, warped, wormlike timeline in which past and future images have a long slow decay – more psychedelic than punk in effect. That work seems more aligned with Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies, which explore the frame as a location to experience slow decay (or development) in real-time.
The more abstracted Noisefields seems to me more aligned with the feeling of shattered staccato time that one gets from your video music works.
I love what Steina did with Violin Power. A highlight of the MindFrames exhibition opening was seeing an updated version of her MIDI-Violin live audiovisual performance. If I ever manage to get to a point with my own live audiovisual performance which is as arresting and poetic as Steina’s work that would be incredible: she’s truly masterful.
It’s interesting that you mention abstraction, because some years ago I would have protested that my work is highly concrete, rooted both in Musique Concréte as well as photo-realistic depiction within the video frame. However you could say that my work has taken an abstract turn this year. Last month I participated in the group exhibition at the KiKK Festival in Namur Belgium with a multimedia installation featuring a series of new prints. This series of prints were created by capturing the editing timelines of the five movements of wash choose peel chop rinse. The result is at once concrete and abstract, as the sliced video frames reveal new patterns hidden in the compositions.
wash choose peel chop rinse installation, KiKK Festival & Exhibition – Namur, Belgium (2013), photo by Gabriel Shalom.
The importance of that time in which Tony Conrad, Peter Weibel of ZKM, and the Vasulkas were working together at SUNY Buffalo’s Media Study Program during the 70s was that there was this newly accessible medium (namely video) that allowed for an unprecedented duration of capture – totally different from the experience of working with film. And that protected space to work with the medium. Where does that space exist today?
In my time getting to know video artists of that generation one of their recurring problems was the challenge of distributing work. Video artworks were circulated as dubs or re-dubs on fickle analog media like u-matic tapes and sometimes even reel-to-reel work for the really early stuff. If we fast forward to the present, the safe space that is created by the internet and cheap or free video hosting platforms makes it possible to get video art out to a much wider audience. On the cultural management side, I know curators who wouldn’t have a practice curating video art if it weren’t for Vimeo. So the problem of distribution has been mostly solved, in terms of spreading work to a larger audience. Now, if we talk about artists making money directly from their video artwork, that’s another conversation.
As music and video become ever more omnipresent and accessible, what do you think is next for the durational “slowtime” aesthetic vs. the hyper-time micro-edited moment?
In my work I am playing with both sides of this dialectic. The prints and the videos have a strong relationship to one another, but each format engenders a distinct experience for an audience. A video is an ephemeral experience in which the duration of the experience is controlled by the artist. In contrast, a print hanging on the wall allows the onlooker to determine the duration of their own experience. So it’s about a counterpoint between different ways of controlling the experience of duration, both on a macro- and microscopic level.
What are you working on now? And will your work continue to splinter the moment - or will you try to extend it?
At the moment I have several projects in development which address the idea of an ensemble. These projects are enabling me to develop a stronger relationship with architecture and dance as components of my practice. Last month I was invited by the artist Protey Temen to participate in The Wrong New Digital Art Biennale. ( http://thewrong.org/) As this is a mostly virtual exhibition, I decided to contribute a virtual work.
For The Wrong I decided to revisit the videos from my 5-channel audiovisual installation The Tosso Variations and extract timeline prints from each movement using the same process which I used for the prints I showed at KiKK. The difference in this series was again related to duration; whereas each movement of wash choose peel chop rinse is approximately 72 seconds long, each movement of The Tosso Variations averages roughly 4 minutes. To exhibit the resulting timeline prints at a reasonable height of 1.5 meters I would literally need hundreds of meters of museum wall space!
The Tosso Pavilion, photo by Gabriel Shalom.
This need for an enormous space was the genesis of The Tosso Pavilion, what I call an art-specific site. The primary quality of an art-specific site (as opposed to a site-specific artwork) is that the art comes first, not the location. Each floor of the structure takes its form from parameters of the artworks. The video screening floor is a pentagonal space; each floor which displays one gigantic print is a cylinder of a circumference determined by the length of the print (ranging from approximately 11 to over 13 meters) exhibited on that floor.
The Tosso Pavilion, 2. Floor, The Tosso Variations, Movement 1, photo by Gabriel Shalom
The Tosso Pavilion, 6. Floor, The Tosso Variations, Movement 4, Print, 1.5m x 40.55m (excerpt) photo by Gabriel Shalom.
I really like how The Tosso Pavilion allows us to imagine a real space with such impossibly epic proportions. At the same time, as an exhibition which happens online, The Tosso Pavilion opens a dialog between what is “IRL” (in real life) and alternately simply “AFK” (away from keyboard). There is a tension between this art-specific site as a gesture towards a possible exhibition as well as an actual exhibition in its own right.
With these forays into prints and space, the scope of my work and its treatment of the fourth dimension is expanding. The Tosso Pavilion may become a navigable virtual reality 3D space soon. In the meantime, I am looking into a related series of more reasonably-sized prints. I post updates on my work in progress on my blog semi-regularly, so that’s the best place to stay tuned.