Friday, January 21, 2011

On View: Ben Russell's "Trypps #7 (Badlands)"

by James Hansen

Currently on view at the Wexner Center in The Box (which wonderfully contributes to the work’s critical questions by installing a certain object-to-be-named-later-in-this-”review” along the walls), Ben Russell’s Trypps #7 (Badlands) is all about deception. Drawing on an array of influences and continuing his own engagement with the experiential, trance-like capabilities of moving-image media, Trypps #7 initially appears to be some sort of update on an Andy Warhol Screen Test. A loud bell chimes and a young woman, tripping on LSD, stares out at the camera and the spectator. Shot in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, she stands in front of a barren canyon. She closes her eyes and opens them again. The camera lightly bobs, as if caught in the rustling breeze heard on the soundtrack. The woman’s hair swirls. Another bell chimes, birds chirp, and the wind intensifies. The woman’s eyes seem glossy and her face slides into a smile.

But, suddenly, the film stops and a white light shines out. Another bell. The woman is there again, but the the vivid, blue sky is the only thing behind her. And then, shockingly, the camera swings downward and Trypps #7 spins into the dizzying territory of Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale. (As we will see, this is in no way to suggest Russell’s film is merely a Snow follow up by way of Warhol). When the camera whirls downward and begins to rotate more rapidly, Trypps #7 showcases its initial deception – it is not the camera that is shifting, as in Snow’s film, but rather a double-sided mirror, a reflective apparatus, which, strangely enough, has literally been cracked. We have seen the woman, but only through the representation of a mirror. Between the mirror’s rotations, the actual canyon can almost be seen, but only in the briefest of glimpses. The crack in the mirror indicates our illusion has been broken and the deception uncovered. Yet, Trypps #7 is just getting started.

As the speed of the mirror increases, making perspective and the space nearly indecipherable, the woman leaves the frame, but the mirror continues to spin. Here, Trypps #7 shows our initial “tripping” with the woman has shifted. This is not only a vision of tripping on LSD or merely a film questioning the representative status of the image (not that achieving either of those aims would be any small task). Instead, it becomes a tryppy reflection of the cinematic process actualized. The mirror, ultimately serving as the shutter and douser, rapidly rotates, breaking up our vision, yet a constant stream of different images (enacted by the mirror reflecting in all directions of the somehow unseen camera) flickers before our eyes. Trypps #7 shows us a reflection of a world and a reflection of a reflection of a world. This doubling gives us the opportunity to see an image and understand that the image we see is a deceptive representational reflection of a place we can see, hear, and experience, yet never actually see, hear, or experience in the way that film does. The eye of the camera in Trypps #7 lives inside a projector’s lamphouse, recording and reflecting the process in front of it. Remarkably, Russell puts us in a position to witness the sight of an image passing in front of a stream of light, shattering into small pieces, and uniting as it beams out from a projector.

By embodying multiple positions which are blocked and shifted by the rotating apparatus in front of us (the mirror, the shutter, the douser, etc.), Trypps #7 shows us the full range of what we see when we engage with cinema and highlights the inner workings of the system that we enter into when we experience moving images. Throughout Trypps #7, Russell slowly reveals how he has inverted and coalesced the distinct, divergent processes of Warhol, Snow, and others into a singular, unbounded double or triple-vision which is simultaneously reflective, static, and wildly kinetic. What a trip.

Trypps #7 (Badlands) is on view through January 31.


Joel Bocko said...

Wow - an evocative description of something that sounds like (paradoxically, as I'm only getting this impression from your piece in the first place) it's hard to describe. Is this piece possible to view in any form other than a museum installation - i.e. does it involve multiple screens or some other use of physical space? I want to see it.

Editor said...

Hey Joel. I saw this both in an installation (a black box kind of space, but the mirrors were included) and also at a film festival, as a normally projected short. The installation was still just one screen, but it had mirrors along the side of the wall further extending it into space. It's the best uses of the space at the Wexner since I've been here.

You can actually view the entire Trypps series at the link below. I think the videos are only good until the end of January.

Glad you enjoyed the piece.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, James (I think?!). The mirror idea is cool - but I'm just a happy there's another way of seeing it. I will make sure to check out this links soon.

Btw, you may be interested to know that I initiated an avant-garde series on Wonders in the Dark. Originally I was going to write it, but I've stepped back from blogging for the moment - I may put up a few more things on Dancing Image, but not on any other sites - so I turned it over to another writer, Maurizio Roca. He did the first entry on several classic 20s shorts, which is worth checking out - just went up on Sunday.

In other news, I received some not-so-late (since I had set the deadline a week from now) submissions to Blog 11 and took the post down momentarily. But your entry remains in the draft and when it goes back up on December 19, as scheduled, it will all be there, along with more great stuff in addition to what went up today.

Sorry for the confusion!