New York

Keith Sonnier

Leo Castelli Gallery Downtown

Even though I’m aware of his sizable reputation for other things, I consider James Collins’s early flocking pieces his best. Sympathetic to Sonnier’s use of videos as a “historyless” medium par excellence, I’ve never understood what he’s about. Respected but not understood. Perhaps it’s my bias against the general tedium of video in a gallery situation, which few videos except, say, Wegman’s stories, Serra’s game theories, or Acconci’s confessions avoid. I thought Sonnier used video more to generate static images—as a present-day Rosenquist of video. Sonnier’s video with its fragmentary juxtapositions of sliced, tinted, positized, negatized elements seems a way of generating beautiful visuals. For this reason, I can only watch bits. The bits of Animation 1 I saw look and sound like a self-orchestration of what appeared to be a computer print-out screen; I thought it beautiful, not demanding. There are voices giving instructions, discussing and changing the color, shape, location, axis, etc. of lines of computer numbers and shapes on the screen. Color video as color video is just beautiful; you could have Mickey Mouse there and it would look good. Print-out screens, like airport ones, are also beautiful! Sonnier’s animations look like a computer taking a visual inventory of itself: adding, subtracting, deleting, superimposing and so on. Plenty of voice-over: “Initial C, preparing, zero, zero, zero, Start, Stop. Play,” or more ordinarily “We still have to keep this formation.” All in all, too McLuhanish for me. Beautiful, but a bit empty. Sonnier extracts large, stunning red and green prints from the video.

Sonnier’s radio piece—a sound equivalent of video feedbacks—occupying the whole front gallery is simpler and more effective. Scrambled sound is more interesting than scrambled images, if a bit simplistic. Walking into the huge gallery and having your eardrums viciously attacked by four car radios, turned on loud, coming at you from each of the four walls is great. The only stipulation Sonnier made, I understand, was each pair of radios should be on the same channels; and they should face each other. You have the same channel on the east as the west wall, and the same, but different, channels on the south as on the north. You’re in the middle of soft fighting against hard rock for your attention. Auditorally it’s pleasantly stupefying, and visually—the radios each with a square speaker spread out and perched on the wall, like a dog on a chain—is powerful too.

James Collins