Los Angeles

Alex Hubbard, Eat Your Friends, 2012, video projection, 9 minutes. Installation view.

Alex Hubbard, Eat Your Friends, 2012, video projection, 9 minutes. Installation view.

Alex Hubbard

Hammer Museum

Alex Hubbard, Eat Your Friends, 2012, video projection, 9 minutes. Installation view.

In his 1975 book, Notes on the Cinematographer, Robert Bresson stated, “Nothing [is] more inelegant and ineffective than an art conceived in another art’s form.” However, attempting to account for film’s specificity, Bresson arrived at a set of stylistic guidelines that gave his approach to the medium a texture like no other. Specificity and its loss have similarly animated the course of Alex Hubbard’s work over the past few years, and his videos—which may at first glance seem to be paintings by other means—have come to occupy a more complex position between and across media. This first solo exhibition of the New York–based artist’s work in a US institution made a strong case for his videos as a practice sui generis.

Comprising two vertically oriented digital projections, Eat Your Friends, 2012, and The Border, The Ship, 2010, the exhibition was presented in a black box; unlike the artist’s last few gallery shows, it featured no canvases begging comparison. These most recent pieces continued Hubbard’s move away from the tabletops on which his strange choreography of objects first appeared. Rather, opaque actions—as mundane as stacking coffee cups or hanging a dumbbell from a pulley—were layered, via digital chroma-keying, to create a multiperspectival cubist space. In both videos, a seamless white backdrop served ambiguously as blank surface and to create the illusion of indefinite depth. Yet here, as with his earlier efforts, Hubbard still proposed something akin to the flatbed picture plane—which is to say, “any receptor surface,” as Leo Steinberg defined the term, “on which information may be received, printed, impressed—whether coherently or in confusion.”

Of course, the slippage between Hubbard’s performance behind the camera and the compositional alignment of color and shape it produces on-screen evokes the conditions of painting. The way his camera fragments and rearranges actions, gestures, and sounds also takes us back, if only conceptually, to Bresson’s description of cinema as “the art, with images, of representing nothing.” For Bresson, the rhythmic value of noise (as innocuous as a door opening and shutting) was crucial. We might place similar significance on Hubbard’s decision to eschew natural sound in favor of a Foley sound track—whose disjunctive exaggerations emphasize the material presence of each video, unhinging the actions recorded from whatever quasi narrative one might try to ascertain. Footsteps reverberate unnaturally as Hubbard walks across the nonspace of his set, and often we are aurally convinced that flows of paint gush with more gusto than the visual evidence would suggest. At times, sound and gesture even part ways completely—for example, the atmospheric clang of a harbor bell in The Border, The Ship relates to the work’s title but has no apparent correspondence to the action within the frame.

This recomposing of sounds and images again recalls Steinberg’s description of the flatbed, an analog of “operational processes” that is beyond “painting as such.” Or we could follow Jacques Rancière’s take on Bresson in The Future of the Image (2007), in which he writes, “The images of Au hasard Balthazar are not primarily manifestations of the properties of a certain technical medium, but operations: relations between a whole and parts . . . between expectations and what happens to meet them.” What Hubbard gives us is a specificity that is particular to how the work is put together, not to the materials from which it is made.

Ben Carlson