Oliver Laric, 5, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes.

Oliver Laric, 5, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes.

Oliver Laric

Oliver Laric, 5, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes.

At Seventeen gallery, Oliver Laric’s single-channel HD-video animation 5, 2013, was projected onto a wall built in the center of the space. The ten-minute video, presented on a continuous loop, shows a white room and a single table. This bleak environment is occupied by five computer-animated avatars, Lewis, Alice, Ada, Janus, and Sam, who take turns sitting at the table one pair at a time, engaged in rapid-fire talk, as if on a speed date. Their names suggest a multitude of references, ranging from Lewis Carroll, Alice B. Toklas, and Ada Lovelace (the mathematician and proto–computer programmer) to Janus (the double-faced Roman god of transition) and Samuel Beckett. Yet these figures are also grounded in a further level of symbolism: Each personality corresponds to one of the five Chinese elements, signified by the characters’ shirt colors: wood (green), fire (red), metal (white), water (black), and earth (yellow). These identities are fleshed out further through highly structured conversations: ten one-minute dialogues constructed as single-line relays, with each character’s fixed script composed of fifteen utterances made up of idiomatic phrases.

One of the more intriguing meetings was between an enthusiastic Alice (fire) and a terse Lewis (wood). The former opens the exchange by expressing her excitement before the latter abruptly asks: “Can we skip the formalities?” The conversation seems painful: “This is my first time,” a hopeful Alice confesses, to which Lewis replies: “This is my first and last time.” When Alice optimistically states, “This is just the beginning,” Lewis counters, “It’s over.” At the conversation’s end, the shot hovers over the couple before cutting to a side view of the next conversation (an editorial touch marking the beginning of each new interaction). Lewis is replaced by Ada (metal), whose responses to Alice are ambiguous: She uses phrases like “It’s open to question” in response to remarks such as “We seem to have a lot in common.” The cycle of conversational loops continues, each discussion presenting the potential for something or nothing, and reflecting the artist’s interest in Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism, which posits that the past (a material certainty, or particular) is influenced by the future (an immaterial projection, or universal) and vice versa.

Along this continuum, another of Bakhtin’s theories emerges: that of heteroglossia, the idea that multiple meanings might coexist (and conflict) in a single work. In 5’s relational web, conversations produce both convergence––as when Alice meets Janus (Alice: “It’s going better than expected.” Janus: “We’re on the same page”)––and divergence: When Sam (earth) asks Lewis, “Would you give me a chance?” Lewis replies, “You can’t force these things.” Such communications hint at another referent: wave-particle theory (the idea that light moves in both particles and waves), one of the profound dualisms structuring the physical world. This subtext is most apparent when Ada responds to Lewis’s “I’m just too particular” with “I’m wavering on that.” Here, light’s contradiction is reflected in the conversation: a relational exchange between two entities contained within a single form, like the screen on which these verbal duels are projected.

In 5, the screen functions within the gallery as the table does in the video, recalling Laric’s description of the hyphen as a “marked or unmarked space that both binds and divides,” preventing “identities at either end from settling into primordial polarities.” The result is “[a] new area of negotiation of meaning and representation.” Yet this “area of negotiation” was produced not only in the interactions among the five avatars but also in the relation between the viewer (the subject) and the work as an object of reflection presented in a space not unlike the white room in the video. The dualism thus expands, underscored by Alice’s final utterance, “See you in five”––the operative word being you.

Stephanie Bailey