New York

Phyllis Baldino

Video’s ability to highlight the elasticity of time has fascinated artists for over thirty years (consider Bruce Nauman’s Video Corridor of 1968–70 or Nam June Paik’s 1974 TV Buddha). Phyllis Baldino’s two recent video installations (both 2000) further this tradition by exploring the negative consequences of the compression of time. Lie the structuralist filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s, Baldino imposes strict temporal and conceptual limits on her investigations yet extends her project well beyond a medium-specific critique.

16 minutes lost is based on science writer James Gleick’s theory, put forth in his 1999 book Faster, that we each spend sixteen minutes a day on average looking for mislaid objects. Baldino recorded a variety of people rifling through their bags, files, and apartments (apparently unstaged), many filmed at close range, near the center of the action. A pair of eight-minute looped sequences were projected low, so that the viewer’s position corresponded to that of the hovering camera, and on adjoining walls, so that the rapidly changing images were aligned in the comer. As the pictures fly by and the harried, sometimes frantic voices of Baldino’s subjects are heard, the lost time seems almost concrete, as if taking the form of the missing things themselves. The absent articles (CDs, documents, keys; a car-service dispatcher even searches for a client gone astray) have entered a parallel world; the moments we spend trying to reconnect with them define everyday experience as a series of interruptions.

A bigger historical picture was encountered in Room 1503 in a row, for which Baldino set up a grid of desk-and-chair combos to evoke an atmosphere of learning. The large video projection of a classroom interior thus appeared to extend into the real space of the gallery. The artist had taped her friend Lisa Jaye Young teaching three back-to-back sessions of an introductory art history class at Hunter College last spring. Anyone who’s ever taken (or taught) such a course knows how works and artists often get wrenched out of their original context and delivered to students in a compact narrative that obscures the complexity of art-historical development. Though the canon can evolve, such an overview is relatively static, since it tends to stick to the time-honored litany presented by greatest-hit survey books. Baldino satirizes this canned version of history by creating a televisual mise en abîme. After filming the first session, the artist played the footage on a monitor next to Young while she taught the next session, which was also filmed; in the third meeting the footage from the second session was played while Young taught, resulting in a kind of archaeology of lecturing. The layers of pedagogy depict a hasty parade of artworks, their contemporary relevance hard to recover under the sheer weight of artists, titles, and dates.

Young’s attempt to quickly address the key points of postwar art (one class session had to cover everything from Jackson Pollock’s AbEx heyday to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial) is interrupted only by her own occasional exasperation at the absurdity of her task. For instance, we hear her frustration at having to represent feminism with “two artists in two minutes”; her only consolation is that all the artists get equally short shrift. Like Baldino’s misplaced items, the artists overlooked in the survey occupy a kind of twilight zone: One knows they’re out there, but for the moment they couldn’t be farther away.

Gregory Williams