Tire Iron #27 9/27/01

Jennifer Steinkamp and Jimmy Johnson:
one saw; the other saw
Rice University Art Gallery
September 21-October 28, 2001

one saw; the other saw by Jennifer Steinkamp scintillates at the front of Rice Gallery like the portentous monolith in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In place of the horns of Thus Spake Zarathustra, Jimmy Johnson's ambient soundtrack of hummings and rumblings induces the same mysterious expectancy. Is it a door to another dimension? A hypnotic new computer drug? Like a fountain (the original kinetic artwork), it catches the eye with complex, changing patterns and sounds.

A vibrating screen of colored stripes is projected onto a tall panel of plastic scrim. Converging lines suggest a long hallway in one point perspective. Candy colors, especially the peppermint red and white bars in the foreground, give the piece a whirling, funhouse playfulness, reinforced by the hallway's jerky stretching and shrinking in response to sensors in the gallery space. Despite faddish retro-future imagery and hip ambient soundtrack, one saw; the other saw isn't slavishly trendy, preserving an elemental dignity in the face of flashing lights and twirling colors.

Like Brian Fridge's spiraling nebulae of swirling ice crystals from the last Whitney Biennial (also seen in Houston at the CAM's Out of the Ordinary show) one saw; the other saw is video art reconciled for the gallery. Art video is split into two inevitable camps depending on how it deals with the gallery space: some videos are movies: they fight the traditional "peek and run" mode of looking with claustrophobic mini theaters. Works like Steinkamp's and Fridge's operate smoothly among traditional static artworks; ever changing, they remain ever the same, creating neither suspense nor boredom. Steinkamp's installation is good video; accepting whatever degree of attention one wants to spend on it, rewarding a passing glance with a psychedelic eye candy, and a long stare with hypnotic complexity.

Likewise, it's good computer art (nearly an oxymoron!) precisely because it doesn't need a computer. The effect in one saw; the other saw might have been created using something as low tech as sliding sheets of colored Mylar, or even the patient stop-motion animation of a few dozen magic marker drawings. Steinkamp's work makes me look hopefully forward to a new generation of computer based artwork which takes the technology for granted, using it as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

The bulkiest part of the installation, a tunnel of high sheetrock walls built inside the gallery, adds little to the piece. Perhaps the intention was to integrate the virtual and real hallways, making the piece more site specific, but it doesn't work; what one saw from the foyer is pretty much what the other one saw from inside the piece. It doesn't matter too much; the sound and light show at the heart of the piece simply makes the rest irrelevant.

- 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 imges courtesy the artists and Rice University Art Gallery. Brian Fridge image courtesy the artist.

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front side of the tunnell


the Rice tunnell that inspired a thousand wedding photos
(and Miss Steinkamp...?)



a Brian Fridge freezer video




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