Los Angeles

Kevin Hanley


For better or worse, much of the critical debate about video-making as an artistic practice has centered around the fact that the medium is intrinsically time-based. This by-now somewhat tiresome line has generated the interdiction that we take video—and the question of its temporality—seriously, even philosophically. In the hands of Kevin Hanley, however, video treads lightly, and ideas and concepts seem almost spontaneously generated—in the case of the artist’s new exhibition, literally out of the blue. In one of the two video projections on view, Fred Astaire dances against a dazzling blue field in a rapid and mesmerizing comedy of time and motion. The work is titled Recounting a Dancing Man, 1998, and Hanley has “recounted” one of the actor’s dance routines by putting a segment of Charles Walters’s 1952 Astaire vehicle The Belle of New York into a digital mixing system. Premiere, the computer software that Hanley uses, enables him to manipulate the speed at which the footage is played back, thereby creating a new sequence, a practice somewhat related to the “scratching” of records. Unlike the predetermined, straightforward elongation of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho, 1993, Hanley controls the tempo of Astaire’s movements with a mouse. The artist spreads a four-minute dance sequence over ninety minutes, so that the original routine is transformed into a complex and seemingly random collection of to-and-fro movements that become dance steps in their own right. The just-over-life-size, twirling movie star is delivered to us as a figure jerking rapidly between forward and reverse motion. Given that Astaire was a dancing machine in the first place, it’s no shock to see classic footage of him treated as if it were a syncopated minimalist score. And because the original soundtrack is subjected to the same time-warping process, Astaire produces a din like the sound of a busy typing pool.

The exhibition’s other video projection, Recounting a Drunken Man, 1998, features a colleague of the artist, a consummate nonactor named Jay, who is made to stutter, again with the aid of Premiere, the most prosaic of sentences: “This guy was, like, talking to himself the whole time in a trance-like, drunken stupor.” Reminiscent of Saussure’s precise dissections, Jay’s enunciations are segmented into syllables and then further diced into comical phonetic fragments; these sound fragments topple over one another like uncoordinated oafs falling down a stairwell. The pointless point of Jay’s sentence and its ridiculous extenuation (the piece is seven minutes long and runs on a continuous loop) amounts to a wryly polemical underuse of a medium that is more often than not spectacularly overused. It is through Jay, whose gargantuan, Peter Sellers–like features bob up and down in the video image like a buoy, that Hanley, with a Baldessarian sleight of hand, tells his funniest joke about time at the expense of new media.

Giovanni Intra