Chicago

Susan Giles

Kavi Gupta Gallery | Washington Blvd

The recent appearance of endless hours of amateur video documenting last year’s Southeast Asian tsunami has provided numerous examples of precisely the kind of imagery that fascinates artist Susan Giles—not for the firsthand encounters with destruction but for the boring and generic moments that drift by immediately beforehand, the kind of casual establishing shots that vacationers seem compelled to record (and which they usually accompany with inane commentary).

For her video projection Glitches, Hitches, and Hiccups 2, 2004, Giles extracted a few minutes from over fifty hours of such material, culled from the archives of numerous camera-happy international travelers, and the moments she selects are often disarmingly pathetic and funny. We are treated to highlights from an out-of-focus video of street musicians; the record of someone holding a camera upside down while walking down the street; a test of the camera consisting of shots of an airport and the inside of a plane; a series of accidental crotch-shots taken with a camera held in the owner’s lap; and seemingly interminable images of floors and highways. The impulsive, indiscriminate, and amateurish nature of such material and the sense of the camera as an extension of the arm rather than of the eye or mind are wonderfully captured here. It doesn’t much matter whether these episodes—most just a few seconds long—were recorded in Asia, Africa, or America; they are all linked by a touching ineptitude that just might be revelatory of the medium itself. Giles isolates and recontextualizes video as a record of inattentiveness, a stream of (un)consciousness. The only surprise here is that Glitches is so brief—one might reasonably have anticipated much more inanity.

Almost a counter to this study of the tourist’s casual gaze is Pilier Sud, 2005, a full-scale model in white foamcore of a lower section of the Eiffel Tower. It is a detail made monumental, a highly specific rendering of something that must have been photographed millions of times but is rarely examined so intently. The sculpture fills the gallery space, seeming to extend beyond its floor, ceiling, and walls in an evocation of work by ’60s Minimalist sculptors such as Robert Grosvenor and Ronald Bladen. Giles is scrupulously precise, beveling edges and mimicking soldering to turn the fragile and lightweight material into a convincing simulacrum of steel and iron. By basing her sculpture on tourist videos, she renders the utterly familiar newly strange. She also demonstrates that the video camera’s aimless gaze can become useful in spite of itself, an evidentiary permanent record.

Giles is intrigued by the ambiguous and diverse impulses that cause people to videotape their travels, the medium’s relationship to the demarcation of place and presence, and the ubiquity of the technology employed. Her examination of the interstices and slippages between these components allows her to focus on the discrepancies between the merely looked at and the truly seen.

James Yood