By Sarah Rushford
Torrington, Conn. – Five Points Gallery in Torrington, Connecticut is a non-profit contemporary art gallery showing professional regional, national and international visual artists. The gallery presents exhibitions in three renovated exhibition spaces in a historic downtown building and the lively events and receptions draw large crowds from a community of artists, educators, collectors and an engaged public from across the region.
Multimedia artist Gene Gort’s installation, “Venetian,” on view through October 17, 2015, combines six channels of video with an array of 30 archival inkjet prints shot by the artist during a visit to Venice during the 2013 Venice Biennale.
The prints are slightly out-of-focus photographs of exterior walls of Venetian buildings; a moody palette of pastel gradients simply framed and not behind glass. Large flat-panel video screens hang at intervals amidst the closely-placed prints playing long loops of idiosyncratic, lightly-handled moments that unfold in Venice’s public spaces. One front-to-back arrangement of two screens in the center of the gallery play video of San Marco piazza, a bustling central square with a clock tower that rings on the hour, the only audio from the six video channels. A video of the gallery discussion that took place on Oct 2, 2015 at Five Points Gallery can be found here fivepointsgallery.org/2015.html.
SARAH RUSHFORD: During your process of making these prints you talked about your interest in the tactility of the paper itself in contrast with the videos. Can you say more about that?
GENE GORT: Yes, I wanted it to be about the visceral qualities of the prints; the ink on the paper, the way the light illuminates the ink, which is very much like the unique light in Venice, and I thought that putting them under glass would compromise that experience. Then I ended up pinning the prints with spherical map pins. You get a sense of their tactility, the sense of the paper as the object, as opposed to the image.
You really can’t tell what the images are, in terms of the medium. Some people at the reception were saying “Are these photographs of textiles? Are they screen prints? Are they watercolors?” They really didn’t know, which was great. I like that. If people obsess about what they are as a medium, then I’ve lost them. But if they’re mysterious enough to be just color-fields with variation then I think that’s successful.
There is the potential of them being photographic, but they’re also lithographic, and mysterious. It’s really about color and light more than anything else; anything I can devise to get the viewer to feel them as color and light as opposed to a framed print or something behind glass — and I think that has to do with present tense. They’re there at the moment – you’re there with them. They’re not a representation of some other time and space. You’re there now with these objects. And that contrasts with the video which reveals a whole different time frame.
The video deals with recollection, reminiscence, a kind of subjectivity of being in a place that’s not necessarily public (although some of those things are very public) but … to me they seem like very private little observations, which is kind of what the images of the walls are too, but in a different way. The prints are about thumbnails of the city, the light of the city, and the videos are about private observation.
SARAH RUSHFORD: Your other installations, especially ‘Unit of Measure,’ combine tactile objects with video. In ‘Unit of Measure’ there were thousands of wooden lathes, all of this wood was cascading and it was so present in the gallery as a material, and then there was the electronic signal literally immersed in it. Does Venetian connect in your mind with ‘Unit of Measure?’
GENE GORT: I hadn’t thought about that but that’s true of most of the installations I’ve done. I’m very much tied to the visceral quality or the materiality of installations. It’s very satisfying to see that come back, the materiality and the electronic representations.
SARAH RUSHFORD: I see a connection between the linearity of the prints series (they’re almost like a timeline) to ‘Waterline’ (one of the videos that’s more abstract because it’s out-of-focus.) I wondered about the connection between those two moving lines.
GENE GORT: Yes, I think of them as a gradient sometimes. There are slippages between color and place. But I think the waterline video is the closest one to the prints in terms of that abstraction. What that video is, is me leaving Venice. I’m on the vaporetto and I’m heading out to the airport, and I’m videotaping the waterline against the canal wall. Sometimes you see two horizontal lines of color and then when it breaks you see up alleyways and into the city, and you see boats that have color and people working on boats. But it really is about color-field, stuff kind of sliding by and shifting, which is very much like the prints.
SARAH RUSHFORD: Did the Biennale influence the work?
GENE GORT: The thing about it is that none of the Biennale is evident in the work. What I’m observing or collecting is before and after the Biennale, it’s after I’ve had this intense connection with the art world that I retreat, and look at where I am. That’s an interesting relationship. Part of the intensity of the Biennale and all the thought that goes into the artwork that’s there really puts you into that frame of mind of paying attention, and being hypersensitive to what’s around you, in an observational way.
SARAH RUSHFORD: When you were in Venice, your roles were as artist, educator and tourist. Do those societal roles come into this work?
GENE GORT: I think they’re all interrelated, because clearly I’m a foreigner. (But so is the Biennale a foreigner to Venice, although it’s international, some, but very little of the art work is about Venice itself.) Educator and artist are inseparable for me. Because what you do as an artist is educate your viewers to observe the world in a unique way. You’re trying to let the viewer in on perceptions that you have. I guess the tourist thing is kind of…the way I use the materials that I acquired there is more about discovery, and tourism implies imperial acquisition of another culture.
I’m not trying to appropriate a culture or to consume it. I’m observing it from the outside. With the videos I’m trying to create a kind of entry. And I’m sure that if I did Berlin or New York or San Francisco, I would be focusing on other things objectively, not as a way to objectify… I would notice things about those places that are unique to them. It’s not about exoticism.
The other thing I was thinking about is that this piece doesn’t really need to be about Venice. It is about being inspired by a place to pay attention to. To pay attention to certain things about it specifically. The piece is more about noticing, in the general sense. It’s more about calling attention to the fact that you’re immersed in a place that is unfamiliar, and that you notice the nuances of the place. This just happens to be Venice. Venice is just kind of an excuse.
SARAH RUSHFORD: It seems like this installation is documentary. These are ways of documenting a place, and though expressive, not outwardly. As a viewer you trust that reality is being revealed to you, there’s little manipulation happening, and the work is trusting the viewer to use their experience to see into the work, it’s not trying to rope them in, it’s not gimmicky. It’s relying on the viewer a lot and I think that’s a really successful thing about the piece.
GENE GORT: Yes, it’s about observing, modes of observing, to a greater and lesser degree they are close to photographic sincerity as they are documentary. I’m embellishing but I’m not sensationalizing. I’m not trying to fool anyone.
SARAH RUSHFORD: The piece seems to ring (even literally) with a message about ways of noticing. That’s clear to you as the artist because you’re saying it in words too. Is it clear to others in your audience?
GENE GORT: I think some. Some of the audience of this gallery is sophisticated enough to engage with it. Others look at it as pretty colors, and some people don’t understand why there is video. I don’t mean to short-change the people I‘ve talked to but some people see it as tourist video. “Oh you shot this all in Venice when you were there?” “Well, yes”…but then they don’t see the connection to the color palette or investigate it further. Some people were like “Are these watercolors, what are these?” but that’s as far as they get. When they find out they’re photographs, there’s no more investigation.
Power Booth is going to moderate the discussion. He was very taken by the ‘Moored’ video, he locked onto the framing, the corner of the screen, and the pigeons and the black door. He looked at it and really investigated the frame. He was really examining the image. That’s great, that’s what I want.
I showed the ‘Venice Calling’ video in a faculty show last year and people were like; it’s hilarious and it’s haunting. They were taken by the narrative of it and the irony of the ever-present cell phone call and the man framed in that ancient window. There’s something really interesting about that juxtaposition. But it’s also kind of melancholy.
One thing that I have heard consistently though is that it’s really elegant. There’s something very elegant about the setup. It really fits the gallery well. I’m thrilled by the way it looks. If it were inelegant or sloppy or uninteresting to look at I wouldn’t get those second comments. I think the fact that it looks as clean and pleasant and inviting as it does — it invites people and gives people the opportunity to investigate.
Gene Gort is a visual artist, video producer, media programmer and educator who lives in Torrington, Connecticut. His artwork and videotapes have been shown internationally including DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Mass.; Pacific Film Archive/Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, Calif.; TheVideoArtFoundation, Barcelona, Spain; Cyberarts Festival 2001 + 2010, Boston, Mass.; University of Rochester; Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY; Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts; Vtape Salon and the Art Gallery of York University/Prefix Centre for Contemporary Art, Toronto; Black Maria Film and Video Festival, touring; Athens Film and Video Festival, Athens, Ohio.
He has been twice recognized by the Rockefeller Foundation with nominations in the Film/Video/New Media categories for individual fellowships. He has received grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts; Pollack-Krasner Foundation; LEF Foundation; New England Foundation for the Arts, “New Forms”: National Endowment for the Arts Regional Artists Projects and has received two residencies at the MacDowell Artist Colony in Peterborough, N.H. and a residency at iPark, East Haddam, Conn. in 2009. He currently holds the position of Professor of Media Arts at Hartford Art School, University of Hartford, a program he designed and directs. See more of his work at genegort.com.
SARAH RUSHFORD is an interdisciplinary artist, writer and curator who lives in Boston. Her poems and text-art have appeared or are forthcoming in the literary journals Houseguest, Tuesday: An Art Project, and Accordion. Sarah has recently completed art and writing residencies at Takt Kunstprojektraum in Berlin and Art Farm Nebraska and exhibits work internationally with current shows at Satellite Contemporary in Las Vegas, Nevada and 13 Forest Gallery in Arlington Mass. Sarah is a member of the curatorial collaborative Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn. See her work at sarahrushford.com and follow her on twitter @SarahRushford and Instagram @sarahannrushford.