New York

Barry Gerson

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center

Arteries can harden and get clogged. Not Barry Gerson’s Arteries, though—meaning in this installation of film and sculpture is so fluid as to make the work virtually hemophilic: at the least poke it leaks out all over the place. That “arterial” may denote “a channel with many branches,” according to Webster, seems appropriate. When puzzling out the implications of the work, the viewer is faced with so many choices of indeterminate outcome that it’s possible to lose all sense of direction and end up going in circles, like the blood in the body human, which stars in this spectacle. Could that be the point?

Two structures stand in a darkened room. Both are painted black. One is a narrow, high box without a front panel, on legs; the other is triangular, like the corner of a room, also on legs. Inside the first unit, on its back wall, runs a film showing red liquid pumping through tubes. Onto one of the two interior walls of the second construction is projected a series of slides, close-ups of a brick wall (cells under a microscope?), each picture only slightly different from the next. These follow each other in rapid, occasionally arhythmic, unending succession. To the front of the triangular container is a clear tube with styrofoam chips (corpuscles? platelets?) kept in motion apparently by a blast of air (does Gerson know that “artery” once referred to the windpipe?). The same sort of clear tube divides the front of the rectangular container, but here the styrofoam chips in it are mainly motionless, clinging to the sides. In the triangular piece a thin, red, solid Plexiglas tube runs diagonally from front to back, while the rectangular box contains six corked test tubes of red liquid.

An anatomy of the possibilities: on the simplest level, these are just shifting views of, or a dissection of, arteries—enlarged, as samples, in situ, etc. The bricks, however, by virtue of the minor distinctions between slides, seem to move back and forth in space, to pulsate like a living entity—the heart, the transformer station for the blood? But if so, where do we take this identification?

To take another tack, this back-and-forth movement, which is accentuated by the depth of the triangular “theater” in which it takes place and by the recession of the diagonal red tube, is opposed to the up-and-down motion of the blood in the film, which emphasizes the predominant verticality of the rectangular theater. This box is shallower than its triangular companion, and its arrangement of tubes is rigidly symmetrical. Here we move into “art” issues of frontality vs. perspective, depth. If you add to this a further implication of the bricks—arteries in the body suggest arteries in the city—then there’s the glimmer of an idea about the man-made being a metaphor for the organic, about cultural enterprises—art and architecture—being based on the patterns of the body.

An alternative scenario: the city is decomposing (those bricks are not in the best of repair). The city (inorganic now) comes to replace nature, but is just as “red in tooth and claw” as Tennyson called the latter. Is it a kind of slumbering sci-fi creature, ready to wreak revenge?

Or, an art pun—arteries are conduits; the medium is the message? Better yet, an answer to Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema, i.e., this is a full-blooded cinema. It takes the circularity of Duchamp’s wheel and anagrams literally, as circulation. (By the way, Duchamp’s cinema was concerned with the question of frontality versus depth as well: one understands that the words exist on a flat surface, yet one views them in or through an illusionistic depth.) Perhaps Gerson is making an argument that art is not an argument, a proposition, that it may be what thinking may not—circular. A Duchampian principle.

Whether all or none of the above, the playful inconclusiveness of the piece makes it as entertaining and as frustrating as a science fair organized by the Dead-End Kids on a Guggenheim grant. It looks like the real thing, but as for reliable information . . .

Jeanne Silverthorne