New York

Esti Schur

Bertha Urdang Gallery

By comparison, the recent video installations of the Israeli artist Esti Schur achieve less through more. She is one of a number of artists who have come to video as a means of realizing ideas generated through involvement in other art forms—in her case, dance. Translated/Translocated is a nine-minute, three-channel black and white videotape presented on three monitors. Monitor three (on the left) reveals a close-up image of the body of a dancer—back muscles, limbs, filling the screen. The figure is attempting to “translate” what Schur calls “directive sounds” from the tape on monitor one (on the right)—a pigeon trainer on a rooftop who screams, whistles and claps “signals” to produce varying flight patterns in his birds. In the center monitor, tape two provides a medium shot of the same dancer in a studio; here he acrobatically performs on an orthogonally lined floor in front of two monitors showing the pigeon signal tape. As Schur writes in her diagrammed notes, “the performer consciously aims to transform the language from tape one into a corresponding choreography.”

The idea of presenting a comparative study of birds’ flight and a dancer’s kinesthetic response to the same signals might be intriguing (the ballet master to Louis XIV, Pierre Beauchamps, developed his choreographic ideas by observing the groupings of pigeons landing in a garret). But there is redundancy in Shur’s system (the close-up tape three provides little additional insight into the process) and the multichannel choreography of the installation as a whole seems to overproduce a rather academic perceptual speculation.

Schur’s other piece, Perspective Video, was more astonishing, having less to do, however, with any expression of the video medium than the physical design and rigging of the installation. Through an entranceway one saw a metal encasement of two angled monitors suspended in midair by cables rooted to the room’s corners, floor and ceiling. The convergences of the cables and sloping sides of the metal encasement effect a three-dimensional reconstruction of a flat perspective drawing of the same solid form (similar in approach to the wooden relief constructions of John Okulick). On the screens of these trussed monitors identical tapes present an out-the-windshield view of a drive down a city street. The monitors are installed inverted, on their sides, with converging lines superimposed on their images; this diagrams the perspective of the scene on the flat screens. The installation, which is a fully dimensional perspective mock-up, thereby dramatizes the spatial distortion of a flat perspective drawing which is, in turn, diagrammatically rendered by the video images on the flat monitor screens.

Schur’s installation proposes an intellectual game with rules founded on the discrepancy between perspectival logic and empirical spatial perception. Becoming ensnared in her puzzle may be entertaining, but its conception is unremarkable, if not, by now, commonplace. One wishes that she had discovered a less trivial use of the video medium itself to advance her aims. Intriguing as it was, the stagecraft of the installation only made one more conscious of a missing central vision with strength to support such apparatus. By carrying her investigations beyond perceptual problems to the political (post-formalist) choices they imply, Schur might well have uncovered a more richly ambiguous Duchampian correlative of anti-illusionism. The narrow retinal parameters of Perspective Video could well have given way to a newly imagined “Video Drawn and Quartered.”

Richard Lorber