Engaging with art of the moving image

  • 2008-02-06
  • By Howard Jarvis

DEER ME: "Faded Majesty" by the duo known as Supersober uses simultaneous cinematic images of wildlife in otherwise empty urban spaces.

Vilnius   -  An unsympathetic word that suggests an act of investigation or cold espionage,"Decoder"   nonetheless carries an air of mystery. It is also the intriguing name of a major new "lens-based" art exhibition in Vilnius that deliberately undermines the way we absorb the information that shapes our understanding of the world.
Taking up all six halls in the 2,000 square m Contemporary Art Center, one of the biggest galleries dedicated to modern art in Eastern Europe, Decoder is the biggest show to be held there since the groundbreaking "Twilight" exhibition in 1998.

Originating in the town of Mechelen, Belgium, last summer Decoder turned abandoned spaces such as hospitals and factories into vast display spaces. The Contemporary Art Center is one of four galleries in Europe to create partnerships with the Contour network of national and international artists who are behind it, ensuring that Vilnius is one of the first stops on a tour of this important exhibition.
Well-known names such as Gerard Byrne, who represented Ireland at the Venice Biennial 2007, and Carsten Holler, whose recent huge installation in the Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern caused a stir in the art world, are part of Contour. As a teaser for Decoder, Byrne's "1984 and Beyond," based on visions of the future of 1960s sci-fi authors, was shown at the CAC last summer.

Decoder itself brings together 11 of the 20 artists who exhibited in Mechelen; even the big-white-cube spaces at the Contemporary Art Center are not voluminous enough for the scale of some of the works. The exhibition engages with art of the moving image, predominantly video, to investigate how we absorb visual images to create our overall vision of the world around us 's while simultaneously subverting what we think we are watching.

"Nightshapes" by Gabriel Lester devises cinematic tension by using unnerving shots of dark landscapes and then tests how we have been conditioned to react from watching so many conventional movies.
This Lynchian tactic is present in other exhibits too, creating a sense of unease as each work is approached. Supersober is a Zurich-based duo inspired by the CinemaScope widescreen format of the fifties and sixties. In a dark hall, they show six synchronized projections on different walls of deer in an abandoned city. The screens exaggerate, almost deform the dimensions of widescreen cinema so that you yourself feel projected into another reality. The future of cinema, anyone?

The Berlin artist Omar Fast films actual people. In his contribution to Decoder, several pairs of characters are placed, perhaps imprisoned, in strikingly colored interiors. The camera pans slowly across them, from one interior to the next, as they act and interact, communicating with themselves and with the audience. Decoder is a memorable experience, even if at times you feel like a guinea pig being teased for an emotional response. Besides, where else can you see so many films for an admission fee of just six litas? 

Contemporary Art Center
Vokieciu 2, Vilnius
Tel. 2623954