Critics’ Picks

The Otolith Group, Medium Earth, 2013, HD video with sound, 41 minutes.

The Otolith Group, Medium Earth, 2013, HD video with sound, 41 minutes.

Los Angeles

The Otolith Group

Gallery at REDCAT
631 West 2nd Street
April 21–June 16, 2013

“What do faults promise?” asks a soft-spoken voice in the Otolith Group’s latest film Medium Earth, 2013. “What assurances do they give when they seek the line of least resistance?” The sole work on display in the London-based group’s first exhibition on the West Coast is a meditation on such faults, which is to say, on both seismic power and ecological culpability. Over forty-one minutes, during which a restless camera pans across freeways, follows the irregular forms of a desiccated desert landscape, and methodically inspects the cracks of underground parking garages, the film develops a dialogic encounter with fleeting notions of earth—“the shifting face of the earth,” we are told.

The film provides a rare encounter within the history of Land art in that it realizes a patchwork conception of the planet’s ecology, privileging neither a single voice nor a particular tradition, but instead working through a concatenation of limited views and concepts as a necessary condition of ecological knowledge. Here, Medium Earth addresses our restricted understanding of both seismic activity and, more profoundly, the “mediums”—material channels, traces, images, and sounds—through which the earth communicates. The idea of patch dynamics in ecology was first articulated in the 1980s in response to the inadequacy of systems as an all-encompassing heuristic for explaining (and, even more problematically, predicting) ecological activity. The faults in Medium Earth are similarly unsteady as nodes of communication within the earth’s systems of plate tectonics and energy circulation. The film addresses these faults as bodies inflicted by sudden bursts of pain and human bodies, in turn, as continuous with the atmospheric turbulence of the earth. “We are gases,” a voice utters, and the earth is desert, is paved, is burrowed, is active. This film leaves us less resolute about earthquakes but more thoroughly attentive to the consequences of fracture and relentless vibration within our common ground.