Beneath the Weston Art Gallery's four-story street-level space, a glass box that grabs the lion's share of attention on a busy downtown street corner, I Morti, a mesmerizing five-projector video installation by local artist Charles Woodman, occupies the main room in the lower level.
The four loops of images projected against the room's west wall capture life at all speeds. Anxious passengers are shuttled through an airport terminal via a moving walkway. A slug slithers slowly through blades of grass. Some sights are recognizable: Venice, Italy canals and the Chandelier Tree in the Sequoia National Forest.
Across the room, a separate projector displays a series of black-and-white gravestone photographs filmed at an Italian cemetery. The portraits are dour, except for the colorful flowers surrounding them and the gravestones.
All the images relate to Woodman's own travels and experiences, yet they're edited too carefully to be labeled a "home movie." I Morti is part diary film and part landscape documentary. The images unfold seamlessly, the electronic equivalent of flipping through the pages of a personal journal. Watched together, from different points throughout the room, its impact is thoughtful and engaging.
While I Morti displays moments taken from Woodman's travels, its beauty is universal. Its images, both contemplative and chaotic, speak to our own lives.
I Morti has been displayed before, in 1998 at the Art Resources Transfer Gallery in New York City. Woodman, professor at UC's College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, has tweaked the piece and reinstalled it to make it more conducive to the Weston's lower-level room.
The work's only glib moment occurs when Woodman films a tourist videotaping his family driving through the tunnel carved in the massive Chandelier Tree. Outside of that scene, Woodman maintains a quiet and ambiguous spirit throughout the work.
Images of a busy food market blend leisurely with the whirling activity of a child's amusement park ride. Watching the loops of footage, the experience is intentionally ambiguous.
A few days earlier, Woodman stood in the gallery to talk about his current installation. His words were useful guideposts about his aesthetic inspiration for filming and editing the piece.
He's a soft-spoken man, and he describes his work carefully, speaking about personal history and memory. Still, like all good art, I Morti needs no explanation to make its impact. It's simultaneously comforting and challenging to watch.
Across the room, tucked inside a darkened doorway, Seeking is the first of three video installations from artist Gagik Aroutiunian. Two black monitors act as electronic sentries. On the left, an attractive woman with a necklace and black dress calmly reads her list of demands for a suitable mate. She's focused in her taste: He must be a non-smoker, non-drinker and drug-free. On the opposite monitor, a young man in a white T-shirt recites his description of the perfect woman: someone who loves independent films and sleeping under the stars.
Seeking is droll and matter-of-fact. The qualities listed by its talking heads take priority over its simple imagery. Wordy and humorous, Seeking is a welcome companion to I Morti's quiet stream of images.
In an adjacent room, Aroutiunian's Tunnel (2002) is comprised of two video loops projected side by side on an opposite wall. Scenes of a crowded Armenian marketplace interconnect with rural landscapes, pedestrians walking through a city passageway and nearby shots of Mount Ararat. Taken together, the images are beautiful and poignant.
In the center of the gallery's back room, "Wheelchair Barbie" (2000) is made up of a wooden wheel chair that sits under a white spotlight. On its seat lies a net filled with dismembered dolls. From a single projector on the opposite side of room, the image of a nude woman slowly rotates on the wall behind the wheelchair.
All four interactive installations, but not in a physical way. Memory and contemplation are the tools that visitors will use the most.
Upstairs and along the main staircase, artist Emily Buddendeck has assembled numerous installations into the exhibition Beauty and the Beholder (see review). While one can make theoretical guesses about perception and memory to connect all of the gallery's works, Woodman and Aroutiunian's installations remain distinct from Buddendeck's show.
One floor below its glass-box gallery, away from the human traffic that pass by its doors, Woodman and Aroutiunian create buzzing work that's as electric and energetic as the lives around it. Visitors to these four video installations will see a piece of their own lives reflected in the images of people and places from around the world. The experience is beautiful, complicated and unforgettable.