Garrett Bradley, Safe, 2022, HD video, color, sound, 20 minutes.

Garrett Bradley, Safe, 2022, HD video, color, sound, 20 minutes.

Garrett Bradley

Garrett Bradley’s Safe, 2022, submerged the viewer within a stream of perceptions through which the disorder of the outside world continuously inflects one’s inner space. Can safety ever be more than a transient state? What does being safe feel like, and what other feelings can it induce and exclude? These were some of the questions raised by Bradley’s three-channel video installation, a piece in which the peripheral becomes central, and surfaces, dripping with visceral suggestion, leaves the viewer beguiled and unsettled.

The work—the second in a trilogy exploring female interiority—opens with a sequence of sunspots projected onto a single screen, mimicking the effect of light playing on closed eyelids. Some compressed, mesmeric copy of the world seems to roar pitilessly by, just out of view; one hears wailing sirens, the sound of flames, muffled fragments of phone conversation. This interplay of sounds and images—the play of light slowly enlarges to fill the whole screen, creating a blurred effect—also evokes a certain dislocation of feeling. Are we in the full flow of an event, or its aftermath? As with a slow-working drug—muting some senses, highlighting others—the only possible reaction is surrender.

As the glare dies away, the camera shifts to a Black woman cutting a strip of Mylar with scissors. This image is accompanied by ominous sounds: of metallic clanging, sudden rainfall. Then comes a dazzling glare. These scenes give porousness a kind of form: mutable sensuous planes of feeling that blur, then redefine themselves. We see the Mylar sheet once more, shivering like mercury and reflecting a burst of light, as the woman reaches to take it down from a roll suspended in an otherwise darkened room. The viewer, as if pushed deeper into his or her own body, is at once made more aware of physical sensation and reminded of its passing—the way that pleasure often contains the chill of its imminent disappearance. Birds chirp brightly as the camera moves slowly toward a close-up of the foil’s reflected brightness. The light becomes momentarily blinding before falling away into darkness. There are soft strobes, cicadas, an intensity opening toward possibility before quickly contracting. It is difficult to know where Bradley’s narrative—perhaps better described as a density of impressions—begins and ends. We hear deep, thudding oceanic sounds, chased again by sirens. A close-up shrinks the woman moving behind the sheet into darkness, lit only by red and green strobes. Golden light flickers at the edge of the screen. The sounds of helicopters swarm above the abstracted city.

A second segment presents a split screen. Dappled pink light generates mutating cylindrical shapes on the left side. On the right, the woman from the first film rolls down a hill, grass sticking to her hair and dress. Helicopter blades continue to thunder. She is captured in black-and-white, her eyes closed, face expressionless. The scene elicits a curious kind of protectiveness. What kind of private abandon are we witnessing? Is this violence or play? Then the light begins to pour and curl like smoke, drifting across the entire screen until the woman is subsumed. As the light recedes, her body is revealed once again, still tumbling.

In the third part of Safe, the woman stares down the camera. The film lingers on her face as she blinks in slow motion, mouth tight, eyes clouded with sadness or anger. Her features are blurred, out of focus, ghostly streaks of another self that the camera can’t quite stabilize. A soundtrack of footsteps and sirens continues to reverberate. On the left side of the screen, objects—bouquets? parcels?—fall at blink-and-you-miss-them intervals. Faster and faster, getting closer, then disappearing. If moving images can stun, this was a haunting paralysis.