WPA Opens new Hothouse Video exhibition: Harder, Glorious.  Over the last several years DC, aided by the likes of the (e)merge art fair and last year’s SuperNOVA, it seemed that, in the words of Washington City Paper writer Kriston Capps, “Washington is aiming to be the nation’s performance art capital.”  However, it seems that Video Art is beginning to draw an increased amount of attention recently.

By Jeremy Flick

From the Smithsonian Museum of American Art’s rotating series entitledWatch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image, the Hirshhorn Museum’s Black Box series, and of course Doug Aitken's Song One monumentally displayed on the side of the museum, to the Corcoran’s recent acquisition of Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s four-channel video installationThe Krazyhouse, there seems to be a great amount in interest in video art around town these days.  CityCenterDC, a soon to be completed complex downtown features a 25-foot high, 50-foot wide digital video screen. Referred to as The Gateway at CityCenter, it is currently showing a rotating array of live video clips, computer-generated images, photographs, sound art, and music by its designer, David Niles, but will hopefully, in the very near future, be a permanent site to feature local video artists.  The DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities has expressed broadening its focus on video works by stating in its recent application form for Art Bank 2014 that “To expand the District’s collection further into new media forms of contemporary art, we strongly encourage video artists and other technological innovators to submit as well.”  Even The National Museum of Woman in the Arts (NWMA) has mounted its first all-video exhibition, Total Art: Contemporary Video.

Total Art: Contemporary Video at NWMA is an important exhibition in exploring women’s impact in the evolution and innovation of video based artwork.  NWMA’s Chief Curator, and exhibition organizer Kathryn Wat, notes “Women were integrally involved with the development of photography--and later video--into fine art forms...exhibitions such as Total Art emphasize women’s innovations and vision rather than primarily contextualizing their work.”  As video began to emerge in the 1960s and 70s, women were on the forefront.  Artists such as Martha Rosler, Dara Birnbaum, and Joan Jonas were some of the first artists to truly focus on video as their primary tool for expression.

WPA is no slouch in recognizing the importance of video work and some of the many influential female video artists working today.  We have a long history of showing video works, going back to the 1970s including 1979's Continuous Video.  In 2006, we launched our Experimental Media Series to highlight artists and the creative potential in new technologies in art.  Earlier this year we launched our Hothouse Video series as a means to showcase video works by local, national, and international artists.  Part of the Hothouse series of exhibitions and events at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, Hothouse Video seeks to introduce exceptional artists and artworks to the DC community.

Four of the artists featured in our current Hothouse Video installment, Harder, Glorious, are Merike Estna, Kate Gilmore, Cheryl Pope, and Silvia Rivas.  Merging everyday struggles and dramas of life with new technology and new digital tools, these contemporary female video artists, along with Peter Eudenbach, featured in the exhibition further explore the psychological, temporal, and participatory properties of the medium.

The works in Harder, Glorious poetically and humorously echo the philosopher Albert Camus in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” where he suggested Sisyphus, an absurd hero − his ceaseless and pointless toil− as a metaphor for our modern condition, our lives spent in futile jobs in monotonous settings. But for Camus The Absurd Man says yes to his struggles “and his effort will henceforth be unceasing,” and that in Sisyphus we see that  “the struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart.”  That in art, just as in life, sometimes the energy expended is not always proportionate to the outcome derived, but that the struggle itself is the reward.  And, sometimes, those results can be glorious.


Cheryl Pope

Cheryl Pope, Up Against (still), 2010, HD video

Chicago based artist Cheryl Pope is well known for her performance, sculptural and video works that explore situations and inner struggles related to how the body physically reacts to the emotional and psychological issues of everyday life.  In considering relationships and experiences she finds confrontational, Pope’s works are highly self-expressive, and intimate.  In her video Up Against, we see the artist surrounded by transparent balloons filled with water hanging from golden chains, which take on the appearance of punching “speed” bags.  The artist commences to strike the balloons with her head. The balloons respond sometimes by ripping opening, dousing the artist with water, while at other times they transfer the energy from an indirect strike to the surrounding balloons, the clear liquid splashing and tumbling inside the clear membranes with the exposed chains writhing above.  We see the physical exhaustion she exudes in trying to burst each balloon.   This staged struggle creates a clear visual metaphor to the concept of “head space” and challenges us as a viewer to contemplate our own personal conflicts and how we deal with them physically and emotionally. Cheryl's website.



Kate Gilmore, Heart Breaker (still), 2004, HD video

Miami based artist Kate Gilmore’s video works create humorous visual narratives poking fun at the stereotypical symbols, expectations, constructions, and behaviors associated with women.  In her video Heart Breaker, we see the artist dressed in a bright yellow dress and high heels.  Propped against the wall is a giant heart, constructed from various scraps of wood.  The artist wields an axe and proceeds to strike the wooden sculpture with forceful, repeated blows till the heart is fully “broken” and nothing more than a mass of wooden scraps.  A second video by Gilmore, Between a Hard Place, the artist, in bright yellow heels, black dress and stockings, proceeds to punch and kick through a seemingly endless series of drywall panels.  The stationary camera stares forward motionless as we, too, stare, captivated by Gilmore as she succeeds in presenting a humorous, but physically exhausting metaphor to the absurd struggles and dramas of everyday life. Kate Gilmore


Silvia Rivas, Faith (still), from the series Buzzing, 2011, HD video

Silvia Rivas blurs the distinction between reality and fiction, using digital tools to create a virtual representation of the natural.  Her animated house flies “buzz” and flutter across the screen as they attempt, but repeatedly fail, to break free from their computer-generated boundaries.  Through her minimalist presentation; the starkness of a single house fly contrasted against the white background, presented in her work Faith, Rivas offers us her virtual insect as an ironic metaphor for our own fears, annoyances, and absurd obstacles.  We, as viewers, are asked to formulate our own narrative in regards to our own perseverance in negotiating our own personal, physical, emotional struggles and psychological boundaries.  Rivas’ “flies” become contemporary versions of Camus’ Sisyphus, fatally locked in their digital frame.


Merike Estna, Traveling with a Painting (still), 2013, video

Estonian artist Merike Estna offers a glimpse into the struggles of the artist and the idea of wrestling with the work.  Primarily a painter, Estna typically uses a highly decorative palette of pastel blues, yellows, and pinks.  By combining elements of video, performance, and installation to her practice, Estna’s approach is one of recognizing painting within an expanded field inviting the viewer’s participation in consideration of how we look at painting and art objects and observe things in general.  In her video Traveling with a Painting, Esta has removed the painting from its stretcher and has taken it on an adventure.  The snow-covered landscape alludes the traditional “white cube” of the gallery space.  As the painting maneuvers the terrain, it stumbles and slides unable to find solid footing.  Crumbled and misshapen, the painting searches to finds its place, not a depiction of the landscape and not fully a part of it, the painting allows us to consider our own challenges as we navigate the landscape and wrestle to find our way.



Peter Eudenbach, Table Tide, 2002, digital video

Peter Eudenbach provides an absurd drama of man vs. nature in his video Table Tide.  In the work we confront a sturdy, dark wood table fighting and bobbing against the torment of crashing ocean waves.  The dynamic created be the video immerses us directly in the scene.  We witnesses the table as if it were a car crash.  We don't want to watch, but we are subconciously drawn to the disaster by some unknown, internal desire.  We can't help but stare helplessly, waiting for the sea to swallow the  table.  But, in an absurd twist, we find ourselves cheering for the table, the underdog, and are reminded of the quote from Thomas Paine from which Harder, Glorious gets its title, that "the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

Hothouse Video: Harder, Glorious opens this evening in the Lobby of the Capitol Skyline Hotel, 10 I (eye) St. SW, and will be on view 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through September 14, 2014.  Our next Hothouse Video exhibition will feature the work of highly acclaimed multimedia artist Saya Woolfalk as we continue to recognize both the strength, and importance of video and video artists around the world, working today.  Previous Hothouse Video exhibitions have featured works by Jacolby Satterwhite, Jonathan Monaghan, and Brandon Morse.


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July 10, 2014