Art in America, November 2005


By Michael Rush

"Video art" has become an increasingly diffuse category among artists. Across a spectrum that includes the digital gamesmanship of Cory Arcangel and the cinematic installations of Isaac Julien, Mark Lewis's short-form films occupy a spot somewhere in between. He shoots on etmm, transfer the footage to DVD for projection and retains a gallery-friendly length for viewers who can feel satisfied by a four-minute loop. At Triple Candie, in his first solo exhibition in New York, Lewis presented three large-scale installations projected on white drywall in the vast, exposed-brick space.

Lewis's work has often engaged the grammar and politics of cinema. One of his most familiar pieces, The Pitch (1998), filmed in a train station, has the artist standing in the midst of commuters, proclaiming a tract on the rights of film extras. Two of his installations at Triple Candie abandon polemics and become in their own right short films of exquisite clarity and sumptuousness. Algonquin Park: September (2001) is a Turneresque reverie shot on a lake in early morning as fog slowly rises. Lewis's stationary camera captures a small boat with two people in it moving from right to left across the frame. Maintaining a connection to the artificiality of cinema, Lewis hires actors and creates scenarios for all his films. The work can undoubtedly be called painterly, but this would be to rob it of its cinematic essence. It is compelling precisely because the images are moving before our eyes.

Equally enthralling is Algonquin Park: Early March (2002), which unfolds against a starkly white sky. A sungle reverse panning shot begins to reveal treetops, then snowy hills, an enormous frozen lake and, finally, skaters enjoying a hockey game on the far right of the screen. The camera, placed on another hilltop nearby, functions like a magician ever so slowly revealing his tricks. At the start we don't know where we are, and by the end, we find it hard to imagine that a group of stalwarts, along with a black dog darting around in the snow, could have found their way to this remote spot.

The third installation, Off Leash (2004), features a group of dogs and their owners, filmed from above, playing in a park. Though on contract, all the participants appear fully engaged in enacting a daily ritual common to city dog owners. As he did with the skaters, Lewis assures a sense of playfulness. While it is tempting to think that he is commenting on the banality of narrative cinema, the energy and, at least in the first two pieces, the unabashed beauty of the films suggest that Lewis does want to present a concise but strong experience within a limited viewing time. He has said that the brevity of his films is intentional, encouraging mobility in viewers. He does not want people to rest, as they do in movie houses. In this regard, he failed this viewer. I watched the Algonquin lakes films at least five time.



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