New York

Bill Lundberg

John Gibson Gallery

On entering the gallery to see Bill Lundberg’s latest show, eight disembodied figures begin gabbling at you from the floor. Stuck in the boards, visible from shoulder up only, three garrulous strangers come as a shock. In living color (and in living motion), they speak in simultaneous layers of normal conversational tones. The disorientation of their condition is Lundberg’s tour de force; all 5 works in the show deal with a similar shock of the familiar set unexpectedly aside for the viewer’s examination.

Lundberg’s medium is film—and plastic and tables and chairs and projectors and mirrors—but essentially it is the movement of the filmed characters that provides life to the places. In each work, a projected image duplicates a well-known social ritual. Props are used to set the place correctly. Card Players features a table and four chairs; projected onto the table top is a life-size film of four sets of hands dealing and shuffling a game of 500 rummy. Sound accompanying the scene is of shuffles and whooshes—curses and conversation are missing. But by sitting in any chair, the viewer can become involved in the social process, as the game progresses logically from player to player. It isn’t necessary to push this sense of involvement to realize Lundberg’s expectations, however. The scene is so oddly complete in itself that the viewer becomes extraneous. The game goes on eternally as rituals usually do—“real life” is quite beside the point.

Silent Dinner operates on a similar premise; again, table and chair set the scene, four disembodied hands eat to the noise of clattering utensils, and the tempting chop dinner disappears in a leisurely 45 minutes. No conversation disturbs the diners; concentration is total.

Lundberg makes no attempt to hide the film apparatus creating the illusion. Rather, he exposes the elements in each piece so that a concern with the set-up itself becomes a compositional factor in the presentation. While the visibility of the projectors and their stands is the most obvious element, the use of mirrors to throw the image in place (on a tabletop, for instance) is also exposed and blatant in the exhibition. The darkness of the room softens the blow of so much mechanics exposed—in his straightforward way, the honesty of the artist forbids a cover-up. The exhibition duplicates the method of filming the original scene, and the relative simplicity of the method keeps the pieces from being mechanical tricks. By enabling the viewer to follow the creation of the piece, Lundberg bypasses any attempts to reduce his work to mere cleverness. Instead he forces an examination onto the action portrayed, its repetitive familiarity and the implications of all such social rites.

One structural element that should not be ignored is the beam of light itself. Lundberg’s professed fascination with its luminosity, its physical presence, shows up especially strongly in that floor piece of eight heads talking. Titled Failure, the work is a token nod to a particularly New York occupation—discussing success and its ramifications. As much a social rite as eating or card-playing, the conversation is the thing—the object and subject of the piece. Humans are mouthpieces, not personalities, and their immersion in the floor powerfully conveys their own entrapment. Snatches of the conversation sound disturbingly familiar: “ . . . the next level of success is not having to work gainfully, at all . . . you have all this time out there for you to do with what you want.” But the conversation is not the emphasized element of the piece. Failure has the most effective structure of any of the works shown. Partly the lineup of the heads across the floor, partly their animated movement contrasting to their stationary placement, gives Failure a more intense physical presence than its neighbors. The presence of the projected light beam is forcefully emphasized, becoming the ruling element of the work. The plastic silhouettes that catch the beam reflect equally from both sides—the image permeates the “screen” in a way that nullifies the notion of film as two-dimensional. While other pieces present lifelike images, Failure creates an alternate object. The screen no longer throws back a reflection of life; it eerily becomes a living object. Unlike a hologram, this method exposes its origins, displaying the projected beam as it is split and diffracted into two separate directions. (Each projector actually shows one couple, side-by-side—an obstruction in front of the beam splits the image in two.) Physically manipulated, the beam of light is newly appreciated as a finite object in itself.

Failure is Lundberg’s most recent piece, and it incorporates film and structure more succinctly than any other piece shown. Because it ignores the traditional use of the screen, because it physically manipulates the image-source, it says more about film itself than any other single piece. Yet it doesn’t lose sight of more ephemeral connotations, toying with image and symbol as effectively as the detached observer who records card games and meals.

Deborah Perlberg