How soon is now?

Pub date September 12, 2007
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art


REVIEW Sixteen minutes with Lars Laumann? Well, I didn’t say no, and discovered that his video Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana is as uncanny as its title is ludicrous. This present-day conspiratorial artifact makes a Smiths devotee feel like Jim Garrison during a virgin viewing of the Zapruder film. Laumann weds a looped melody from the Smiths’ instrumental "Oscillate Wildly" to TV news footage, music-video clips, and visions from the ’60s kitchen sink cinema that have inspired (and provided) Morrissey lyrics, using all of the above as a backdrop to a voice-over lecture that links the 1986 album The Queen Is Dead to the Aug. 31, 1997, death of Princess Diana. Even if you have no interest in (or an aversion toward) the title’s pair of late 20th-century British cult figures, the result casts a comic yet eerie spell.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Smiths-inspired art has become a subgenre, a phenomenon flourishing to the degree that it deserves a book-length essay — ironic, since most of the video and visual art projects responding to Morrissey and company are far superior to the shelf of books that have been written off of his name.

Laumann’s video doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of the Istanbul-set karaoke in Phil Collins’s installation dünya dinlemiyor (The world won’t listen), which did time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last fall. But the Oslo, Norway, artist is exploring something different than is Collins, whose update of Andy Warhol’s screen tests allows for compassionate views and expressions of fandom. Drawing heavily from David Alice’s site, Laumann’s short work reaches for the extraterrestrial stars in presenting the organic quality of conspiracy theory during the Internet era. As in Lutz Dammbeck’s Unabomber documentary The Net, the final conclusion (if there is such a thing) matters less than the numerous revelatory or ludicrous destinations that are part of the narrative’s crazy maze.

Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana helps kick off a staggered series of videos showcased over the next two months in "There Is Always a Machine Between Us," at SF Camerawork. Curated by Kate Fowle, Karla Milosevich, Chuck Mobley, and Chuck Orendorff, the overall exhibition toys with Skype, mouse-triggered wall projections, and an orange-hued approximation of living-room DVD viewing. Some viewers might find it inherently problematic for lo-res video to receive bigger-screen treatment. Regardless, the varied combos of form and context here aren’t as provocative as the material gleaned by the select group of Web trolls whose research is on display.

Web trolling as gallery fodder — is this just one more ploy to destruct ye olde sacred art space so it can be mistaken for YouTube or an amusement park? If so, I’m happy that the likes of Cliff Hengst, Matthew Hughes Boyko, and Matt Wolf are doing the handiwork. More than one contributor to the exhibition’s DVD library includes the YouTube mainstay CPDRC Inmates Practice Thriller, yet Hengst’s, Boyko’s, and Wolf’s compilation DVDs also showcase distinctively deranged aesthetics. Hengst gives us Anna Nicole Smith outtakes, Barbra Streisand swearing at a heckler, and an industrial clip he aptly titles Clowns vs. Old People: The Final Battle. Beginning with another YouTube hit, Cobra vs. Baby, Boyko’s DVD moves on to revealing moments when onlookers seize control of imagery from stars, such as an unedited version of Tom Cruise getting sprayed in the face at a War of the Worlds premiere and the aftermath of Tara Reid inadvertently flashing a post-op nipple during her zillionth red carpet stroll.

Wolf’s DVD, featuring moments such as Kerri Strug Olympic Vault (singled out for its revealing masochism) and a clip of Ryan Phillippe playing the first gay teen in daytime soap history, offers only a taste of the imitations of Imitation of Life found on his site, More than the research DVDs provided by some of the show’s other videomakers, it adds to the richness of his work on display. In Smalltown Boy, Wolf — who is currently working on a documentary about the late musician Arthur Russell — picks up the baton left by Todd Haynes sometime at the cusp of the ’90s, combining TV-documentary motifs such as voice-over and interview to tease out a link between the late David Wojnarowicz and a teenage girl obsessed with My So-Called Life. The conspiratorial thread that runs through "There Is Always a Machine Between Us" resides within Smalltown Boy as well, in a manner that is all the more effective for being muted.

Fifteen minutes with Markus Linnenbrink? Well, I didn’t say no — and didn’t regret spending that amount of time and a bit more with his wall painting, epoxy resin paintings, and sculpture at Patricia Sweetow Gallery. Though slick on the surface, with a lively sense of color that exposes the rote and drab quality of some Bay Area work, on closer examination the German Linnenbrink’s paintings possess candy cane sickliness. The queasy factor is only magnified by the suspended drops of paint that hang from the bottom of some works, or, in the case of ALLESWIRDWEITERGEHNINEEINPAARSEKUNDEN, by hundreds of pockmarks. (Twisting things inside out once again, these pocks are gorgeous on closer examination, resembling the interiors of porcelain saucers or cups.) The muscularity of Linnenbrink’s process — Clement Greenberg and Jackson Pollock would approve — is counterbalanced by his fondness for bits of glitter and his droll flair. Though he’s understated in comparison with Douglas Gordon when it comes to temporal commentary, his titles sometimes question whether it is the paintings or their viewers who are loitering.


Through Nov. 17

Tues.–Sat., noon–5 p.m., free

SF Camerawork

657 Mission, second floor, SF

(415) 512-2020


Through Oct. 20

Tues.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., free

Patricia Sweetow Gallery

77 Geary, mezzanine, SF

(415) 788-5126