Tire Iron #41 1/24/02

Jeremy Blake: All Mod Cons
Blaffer Gallery (UH)
January 12- March 24, 2002

Jeremy Blake's abstract videos are more than just animated paintings. His vocabulary of liquid blobs and blurs, pebbly surfaces, and sampled photographs morph one into another to create a never-ending techno fantasyland. Blake's videos seize on the anesthetic quality of painters like Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, and combine it with the creepy airlessness of Myst.

Blake's cinematography is interestingly limited: his pictures constantly dissolve and shift focus, but never pan or zoom. The camera stares fixedly ahead, entirely passive, as things slide in and out of its field of vision, encouraging a similarly passive trancelike stare from the viewer. The pace is lava-lamp slow; you can see it's moving, but an impatient guy like me must make a conscious effort to slow down to its hypnotic sluggishness. Though I watched all three videos all the way through like a good reviewer should, I watched them all at the same time. Having three pieces running simultaneously helps: when one video hit a dull spot, like a long, gradual dissolve, I could watch another, assured that nothing significant was going to happen for a few moments.

Things happen in Blake's videos; there's a pleasant, mild suspense in wondering what's coming next. As in a kaleidoscope, the process of transformation is more interesting than any one image. In Berkshire Fangs, Blake acknowledges the fairytale quality of his work with a delightful playfulness by quoting a traditional image: he momentarily inserts a photo of a burning castle with a rustling sound like crackling flames; its stylized eerieness restates the romanticism of the work as a whole.

The visuals in Blake's work far outstrip the sound. Mostly dark techno-industrial humming like muffled machinery, interspersed with more distinct grinding and cracklings, the sound is so generic and unimportant that the three pieces don't interfere with one another, though they are running simultaneously in the same space. By contrast, in similar pieces by Jennifer Steinkamp (see Tire Iron 27) sound and light form an integrated piece; in Blake's videos, sound is an afterthought.

Blake's still photographs were forgettable, his drawings grotesquely arty and self -indulgent. It's like asking a digital DJ to play the violin; I can only assume that the art market, still lusting for the authentic touch of the artist's hand, gobbles these drawings up. If it helps pay for the videos, OK, but that's the end of their usefulness.

In a way, Blake's videos do what abstract painting always wanted to, but better. Relieved of the weight of history and the hackneyed romanticism of high art, they are the realization of Kandinsky's dream: stories told in an abstract language of shapes and colors, free to express mystical, spiritual forces and feelings directly, without the mundane literalness of representation.

- Bill Davenport


Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from
Houston, whose quirky objects have appeared
in many shows everywhere. Visit his website at

All images are courtesy the artist and Blaffer Gallery.


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Still fromI, 2000, digital animation with
sound on DVD, 20 minute contnuous loop


Still from Mod Lang, 2001, digital animation with
sound on DVD, 16 minute contnuous loop



Still from Berkshire Fangs, 2001, digital animation with
sound on DVD, 16 minute contnuous loop


Still from Chemical Sundown, 2001, digital animation with
sound on DVD, 12 minute contnuous loop


The Slick Rhodes Story (detail), 2001, pencil, pen gouache
and collage on paper, series of ten drawings


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