Art: Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The medium is the message: Demian LaPlante’s ‘Big Wheel.’
Reciprocity, by Demian LaPlante
Thru Feb 20 at Gallery 414,
414 Templeton Dr, FW. Free.
Way Outtakes

Demian LaPlante takes a pedestrian trip through time and space in his latest exhibit, a multi-media extravaganza.


Sometimes genre art must simultaneously nod to and ignore its roots to stand out, especially in video art, probably the most recent medium to have been embraced by the establishment. (Not so fast, cyber-art.) Hew too closely to the style’s modest ’70s-era upbringings, you’ll be considered a Nam June Paik rip-off. Race past them, you’ll be called either a charlatan or — worse — an avant-garde filmmaker. Matthew Barney is one artist who tap-dances atop the fence between schlocky moving pictures and cinema. His florid, grandiose, soothing, grotesque Cremaster series depends on the suggestion of narrative — not narrative itself — to succeed. Peter Campus is another Fred Astaire of the video artworld. His trippy non-linear montages are more like ab-ex paintings that shuck and jive on their canvases than video artworks.
An exhibit of Dallasite Demian LaPlante’s video art, on display alongside some artful photographic pieces of his at Gallery 414 through Feb. 20, also kind-heartedly patronizes its techy ancestors, chiefly by ushering both Barney and Campus out the door with a handshake and a smile. While Barney insists that viewers watch every single frame of his work, LaPlante appears only to ask that they rest their gazes briefly upon his imagery. Where Campus demands reverence, LaPlante celebrates shrugging.
The Dallas artist’s work may not sound too intoxicating, but it is — as displayed. The content is not really the point. The context is.
LaPlante doesn’t merely hoist a camera to his eye and film. He constructs some sort of mobile or portable contraption, attaches to it a camera, then presses “play.” The filmed results spill across tv screens in galleries. Next to each video artwork is the relevant contraption. Tool and product sharing the same space makes for a surreal totalizing environment, like watching a home movie of a loved one at play as his body lies in a casket at your feet.
The attraction of “Big Wheel,” LaPlante’s most light-hearted of the three video pieces on exhibit, isn’t that the work unfolds from the point of a view of someone on a wobbly, stuttering stroll through the daytime streets of downtown London. What’s appealing is considering the shaky footage while in the presence of the wheel itself, a massive brownish construction of steel and concrete. The wheel, through its documented ability to essentially create art, achieves a certain nobility. It — and the film — will apparently roll forever. (Some opening-night viewers, briefly swapping their Art Lover hats for Reality TV Lover hats, were enthralled by the fact that few Londoners deigned to acknowledge the off-camera artist as he pushed the wheel along.) Re-jiggering the dynamic between time and space in an almost laughably rudimentary way, “Big Wheel,” like all strong visual art, arouses serious contemplation.
“Wide Angle,” a dog’s-eye view of a walk through spooky woods at night, also provokes reflection. After maybe 10 seconds of observing the footage, you’ll probably look away from the tv and at the accompanying, floor-bound contraption, a shiny, reflective aluminum vessel, similar to a large vase but with angles instead of curves. The mood immediately lightens.
A little levity never hurt any artist. Though “Revolutions and Reflections” may be the most studious of all three pieces, it’s still capable of generating smiles. The best way to describe it may be to say it’s like getting caught inside rapidly spinning revolving doors in the middle of an empty parking lot at noon. You may linger a tad longer than expected, not because you want to see the ending (there is none), but because you’re actually having fun. As with whirling like a dervish, a little bit goes a long way.
LaPlante has clearly mastered the gift of interweaving whimsy with stone-cold reality. His deft hand also appears in his photographs, a series of black-and-white prints of artfully rendered street signage in actual locations. Instead of “stop” and “yield,” LaPlante’s communiqués are stark silhouettes of watch towers on white backgrounds. Something as abstract as the concept of Big Brother is suggested alongside the silliness of something as majestic as art reduced to a kind of urban symbolism that’s closely associated with keeping motor vehicles — or video artists following in LaPlante’s wacky footsteps — from smashing into one another.

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