Critics’ Picks

Michael Bell-Smith, The White Room, 2012, HD video, sound, 25 minutes 31 seconds.

Michael Bell-Smith, The White Room, 2012, HD video, sound, 25 minutes 31 seconds.

New York

Michael Bell-Smith

Foxy Production
2 East Broadway 200
September 7–October 20, 2012

It is impossible to identify a beginning or end to any of Michael Bell-Smith’s four new videos. By convention they should be called loops, but the word feels wrong here. A loop creates the impression of an image fallen out of time through repetition, whereas Bell-Smith evokes timelessness not with recognizably repeated sequences but with chains of transitions and variations. The eponymous digits of Magic Hands (all works 2012) conjure sounds and flashes of light, to-do lists, and balls of crumpled paper. Backgrounds fold and shift as fluidly as the objects before them appear and vanish. Similar in structure, De-employed adds a word to each of its slide-show tableaux of images and effects. Any consecutive pair of words makes sense as a phrase, but each connection pivots in a new direction. The video’s zigzag path deflects syntax; its restlessness suggests a screen saver’s fidgety visuals.

A screen saver masks a still image to keep it from burning a permanent trace on the screen. In White Room—the only work shown on a monitor rather than as a projection—the moving image thwarts inscription again and again. Three-dimensional models of a DVD, a book, an envelope, and other data carriers dance across the screen, demonstrating a catalogue of simulated textures: Wood, stone, embossed tin, and other seductively tactile patterns coat their surfaces. A streak of colored paint defaces each object, but they nimbly shrug it off, moving as the graffiti clings to an empty plane and then fades away. Substrates, surfaces, and traces flake apart, as if to describe the screen’s blank indifference toward the signs it displays and its disposition toward constant motion. Presiding over the exhibition, Wave Clock keeps time for the gallery with a working digital image of an analog clock that slowly meanders over a video of crashing surf. The mechanics of clockwork model nature’s cycles. Like the round clock face, the spliced reel of the film loop symbolizes a temporality that its physical shape can’t contain. The loop operation that keeps Bell-Smith’s videos going mimics that circle in name but its action unfolds in the invisible space of software. His moving images skim the waves of information’s boundless oceans.