Charles Atlas/William Basinski & Extreme Animals @ THE WORKS
Posted by: Forrest Martin
Strangely, we’re at a point in time where I can say that there is something old-fashioned about video art. I like that there is still a place, albeit a rare one, for low-fi, specially-effected, sometimes painful video collages viewed on a big screen, in front of an audience of more than one, without the ability to read user comments or skip through the slow parts. Or to navigate away entirely.
The Atlas/Basinski performance began with an advantage, namely Charles Atlas and the fact that his Tornado Warning installation was my favorite space in the entire school. It was simple (the main space housed just white geometric graphics, projected into a large, custom built housing, that for a time appears to recede into space before stopping and building it’s way out into the room, nearly enveloping the audience), and it had a certain abstract coherence. So, too, did tonight’s performance. I was concerned this might become an annoying ode to randomness, or a fucked up ambush, but at some point within the first ten minutes it registered that I could trust the experience and zone out to it – that they weren’t going to senselessly soothe and then batter me, like the most recent comparable experience I had earlier this year seeing Animal Collective’s “Oddsac” film, or years ago with Michael Snow’s “Wavelength” – and that the segues and concepts had some intuitive relationship to one another, however indescribable that may be.
Atlas retains a clear sense of balance amidst an erratic shower of looped movements and overlayed textures. There was nearly always, literally, a central focus to identify with. Black and white footage of a man’s head struggling to rise, a stand of fire, a flexing bodybuilder, an ecstatically mischievous Mariah Carey. The result was trancelike. Everything dissolved or cut into whatever severe, beautiful or bizarre thing was around it, and still he never left you entirely without a ledge. Basinski’s sound design went from Philip Glass to Pink Floyd to Something New Age in feel with a timing that was perfectly considered for the footage; the two played off one another in a manner of practiced familiarity.

It is through repetition that we absorb; is this is why I find it so satisfying? I’m often guaranteed to forget something minutes after seeing it if I don’t A) discuss the thing immediately or B) see it repeatedly. So these chapters of short consecutive cycles pleased me. This gradual spell was first broken twenty minutes into the program when some unspoken critical mass yawned across the auditorium and proceeded to intermittently eject people, in groups of two or five, for the remainder of the show – hastily heading for exits in a fashion that was deeply grating, and something of an auxiliary soundtrack. KLAKK-CKX. It seems to me that if it had been an obtuse dance performance – as I’m sure to see sometime this week? – the exodus would have been subtler and more polite, but somehow [KLAKK-CKX] people feel more betrayed [KLAKK-CKX] by something that should read as movie entertainment (it’s on a screen, in a theater) but isn’t. KLAKK-CKX.
My favorite part was towards the end, when we were tripping on two tabs of LSD and hurtling through space to the tinkling of a spartan electronic melody. Even though pins of psychedelic light streamed out to all sides, the center point was invitingly unwavering: the stillness of the future, and everything else.
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The following Extreme Animals performance could have been the perfect antidote for the leavers, if they weren’t ruined on sit-down video art. It was explicitly MC-ed by the Dude (I’m not sure if it was Jacob or David), with a detailed synopsis of how many sets they were presenting, replete with run times. The take on video montaging was much more casual and sarcastic, pulling in pop culture (Miley Cyrus is saving the earth on YouTube, yo) and a thoroughly entertaining sardonic hyper-optimism. The audience was suddenly a barnyard of activity.