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BlackBook Art View: Three Video Artists Who Are Invigorating the Medium

Joseph Jacobs | BlackBook, 26 March 2019

Go to Chelsea art galleries on any given day and you are bound to see at least one video installation, if not several. But it is quite remarkable to discover three installations in three contiguous galleries, and just as remarkable to encounter three exceptionally strong videos – especially since so much video falls flat on its face. Perhaps we should not be so surprised since the three galleries, Metro Pictures, Gladstone, and Marianne Boesky, all in a row in West 24th Street, are major galleries with impressive track records.

Marianne Boesky is presenting Hans Op de Beeck, a 50-year-old Brussels-based artist who makes drawings, sculpture, and films, all of which are included in the exhibition. But the show-stopper is his new 44-minute, single-channel, black-and-white film, Staging Silence (3). In it we see a miniature stage, with two sets of hands gracefully descending to first create a set, and then slowly altering it from a landscape, to a cityscape, to a suburban neighborhood, to a seascape, and to interior spaces, such as a library or a living room. These tiny scenes are fashioned using such found materials as dirt, sand, stones, broccoli, mushrooms, costume-jewelry plastic pearls, and fabric.

The hands create clouds out of cotton, crinkled aluminum foil becomes mountains, and Saran-wrap is stretched to become shimmering water. Day is turned into dusk and then into night by sliding increasingly darker sheets of glass in front the scene. In addition to working with found material, Op de Beeck laboriously makes miniature palm trees for landscapes, and furniture for interior scenes. Gradually the artificial set magically becomes real, transformed into an idealized yet mysterious, never-never world, its surreal quality reinforced by the film’s eerie grey tonality, its slow graceful pace, a haunting soundtrack, and an unsettling calm.

Op de Beeck says he “regards man as a being who stages the world around him in a tragi-comic way,” and Staging Silence (3) is certainly tragi-comic. We smile at the clever whimsy with which his world is created, only to see it washed away as it is transformed into an entirely different environment. The film powerfully highlights how we seek to manipulate the world and create identity within it, and ultimately how artificial and impermanent everything is. Reality is never what it appears to be.