DEBORAH WING-SPROUL & LING-WEN TSAI @ SPACE
There were no discernable signs of the country’s economic crisis among the crowded, music-filled streets of Portland, ME during this month’s First Friday Art Walk. My destination was SPACE, an alternative gallery that in its own words “presents contemporary, emerging and unconventional arts, artists and ideas.”
The video performance exhibition One/Another definitely fits the unconventional bill. It is the product of a collaboration between Deborah Wing-Sproul and Taiwan born Ling-Wen Tsai, part of the international exhibition series: Here, There and Everywhere, Anticipating the Future of Art, curated by the TransCultural Exchange. The exhibition program is a series of collaborative projects between at least two artists from different countries, almost 60 in all.
One/Another began with a split screen view of the two artists, their physical differences temporarily erased by their uniform, white, long-sleeve shirts underneath hemp, or linen jumpers. The initial shot features the backs of the women’s heads, standing side by side in what looks like separate rooms, fused together through editing. The video fades out and resumes with the image of Ling-Wen with her head against a white backdrop. Slowly her hand rises and reaches out before her and it is only then that you realize that she is touching a wall and isn’t simply leaning against a background of interminable white space. The artists are then seen on opposite walls in what looks like the same room and by the end of the video have moved to what looks like the opposite sides of a shared wall.
Their movements seem to mimic each other and are synchronized, although each woman’s performance was unscripted and shot separately, the video edited to coordinate their movements and symbolically unite them. The single channel video projection ran for 19 minutes, the focus switching back and forth between the two artists as they delineate the linearity of their minimalist, white environment with their body movements. Their faces are emotionless, their bodies speaking for them instead.
Each woman reacts with subtle differences to her environment. Ling-Wen turns her face to the camera as if to understand her surroundings and gives the audience a chance to understand her, while Deborah seems almost militant with her closed off attitude, turning away from the camera, her face rarely seen. There are no simple answers in this piece and at times watching it you feel as if you too, are blindly feeling your way through an unfamiliar space.
Unfortunately, the artist-engineered sounds that aid in the transition and understanding of the three rather distinct phases of the video were inaudible at the noise-filled gallery. It was only after viewing the video at home that I realized that there were accompanying sounds. The bottlenecking effect that occurred from having the video played in the entrance gallery of SPACE was also an unfortunate distraction, as you had to keep shifting your position to let new people enter the gallery, making you feel more like you were in a club than a gallery.
The slash in the title One/Another symbolically mimics the wall between the two women in the video, suggesting that the artists recognize that they are literally both “one” and “another.” They seem to recognize that a truly shared experience is almost impossible, each person always bringing to the table their past experiences to interpret the present. On the other hand, although you may sometimes feel that your experiences are completely individual, in reality someone, somewhere has been through the same thing, which intrinsically reflects the spirit of the TransCultural Exchange exhibition series.
Not coincidentally, as those of us gathered at SPACE to view one/another, it was simultaneously being broadcast at Tampopo ArtSpace in Tainan County, oceans and continents acting as a metaphorical divide between viewers in the two countries, paralleling the experience of the women in the video.
"One / Another" is on view from March 4—28, 2009 at Space, 538 Congress St., Portland, ME.
All images are courtesy of the artists and Space.