Wavelengths: Doing Away With Formulas

by Paddy Johnson on September 8, 2012 TIFF

Ernie Gehr

“That wasn’t the [Thomas Demand] film we intended to screen,” curator Andrea Picard informed the audience after the Wavelength screening last night at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  Demand was one of five participating artists  in the program, which included Fern SilvaShambhavi Kaul, Blake Williams and Ernie Gehr, and arguably the weakest inclusion.

Picard had wanted to show a version without music and only foley sound, not that it would have made a difference. The piece is classic labor-intensive Demand, an animated film of hand-constructed paper sets. And there’s nothing to it. Dubbed Pacific Sun, the piece recreates 100 seconds of the minor viral video of the ship in heavy seas. What we see is the furniture dislodged and sliding back and forth from one end of the room to the other as a light electronic keyboard soundtrack plays in the background.

It probably would have done better in a gallery space than in a screening room, as would Ernie Gehr’s Departure, a 22-minute film shot from the window of a train. It was mostly what you’d expect: trees, train tracks, and skylines. That said, the audience was more than willing to sit through that trip.  Late in the film, after I’d started to get a little tired of watching the tracks go by, I looked around at the audience to see how others were doing; I was the only one not completely enraptured by the work.

Gehr’s Auto-Collider XV followed Departure, and was a highlight from the screening. At first, it doesn’t look like much: it’s just moving horizontal lines that resemble digital image manipulations, with a soundtrack from a car trip he’d made. Artists like Agnes Martin and Gerhard Richter get thrown around a lot in reference to this work, but those connections feel a little superficial to me. The beauty of this work is that lines appear to correspond to the soundtrack; the lines in the video move fast and furiously as the car speeds up, and when it slows broad swaths of color take over. It’s a simple effect, but I liked that the relationship between visual and audio elements in the real world held up, even when the real world had been so abstracted as to be meaningless otherwise. Somehow that all seemed to square with Gehr’s comments after the screening: “I really don’t have a formula. I work intuitively. I respond to the possibilities that are there.”

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