Ken Fandell

Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery

On the Lawn at Graduation 2001, a seven-minute looped video of a woman’s high-heel-shod foot swinging aimlessly to and fro, assumes added interest when accompanied by the martial rat-a-tat-tat rhythms of Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War,” the opening section of his suite The Planets (1918). In his recent exhibition, Chicago-based artist Ken Fandell set seven short, silent, single-shot videos to this modernist orchestral gem, variously adjusting and editing each one into evocative intersection with its seven sections. If we could free the term of its vernacular cultural baggage, Fandell’s series “The Planets,” 2001–2005, might best be described as a suite of music videos, intriguing and generous comminglings of aural and visual stimuli that invite us to drift back and forth between sound and vision.

There’s something potentially banal about the subjects of Fandell’s videos—the aforementioned foot, a woman’s hand gesticulating, a pick-up soccer game in Vienna, his girlfriend driving a car, a baby’s face, an old man’s mouth, and the artist watching the sun set—but they manage to escape the tag as Fandell selects an appropriate Holstian counterpoint for each image. His intense close-up of the aged man’s mouth in A Conversation Past Noon in the Year 2005 is set to Holst’s “Saturn: The Bringer of Old Age,” while in Being Driven Somewhere Early in the Year 2003, an enraptured study of his girlfriend’s face is accompanied by “Mercury: The Winged Messenger.” Additionally, Fandell here manipulates the footage in postproduction so that his partner’s head appears to make a slow clockwise revolution, as if topsy-turvy in love.

These two videos are presented in real time, but others in the series feature sped-up or slowed-down footage. In Just Before Spring in the Year 2002, a shot of a baby’s face is decelerated and paired with Holst’s “Uranus: The Magician.” Watching the infant open his eyes and move his facial muscles is as complete a transcription of the mechanics of absorption as one could imagine, and the work is the closest that Fandell gets to that of Stanley Kubrick, whose similar use of a child and Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (1896) in his cinematic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) seems also set on joining visual enchantment to musical delight. Fandell’s approach is modest, even bemused, in comparison, but conveys a similar sense of awe.

An Appeal to Converge in the Year 2005, which uses “Venus: The Bringer of Peace,” is the most visually dense of the group. A woman in a floppy hat is here shown motioning with her hands against a blue sky, her gestures amplified by stop motion blur, displaying the intense expressive power of the human hand. Fandell’s series concludes with the artist literally in the dark in Sitting on My Porch as the Sun Goes Down in the Year 2000, 2001, which is set to “Neptune: The Mystic.” The setting sun is seen only as a reflection in the artist’s glasses in this sped-up video, but there is nonetheless a surprising sense of communion with nature. Fandell’s videos sidestep the structural certitude of Holst’s music, emphasizing the instability of art as a communicative vehicle. Their intersection with the music, though, remains seductive, suggesting that, were our daily lives actually accompanied by an evocative sound track, they could not help but be qualitatively enhanced.

James Yood