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Blurred Reflections: New video exhibition to be applauded despite a close miss

By Rodrigo Diaz

Video as a medium has expanded our understanding of our sense of sight -- however it has come with limitations. Video footage of the Rodney King beating and recent terrorists attacks ingrain themselves in our collective psyche. Yet acquittals of the police officers, and analogies to an "action film come alive", elucidate video's failure to truly communicate "reality." This is the premise that Blind Vision: Video and the limits of Perception at the San Jose Museum of Art, through November 11, 2001, aspires to highlight, yet partially misses due to the selection of artists and a claustrophobic presentation.

When entering the exhibition the visitor is immediately presented with three different pieces running into each other. Despite this initial falter, one only has to turn right to view an accurately intuitive installation. Marie Sester, a French artist, has created Exposure by projecting x-rays on the wall of such massive items as trucks and cars. Going further, she projects a vertiginous moving x-ray of a house encircled from above. Speaking directly to the exhibition's goals, things are viewed differently; in this case massive "solid" objects become more hollow than full. Further, there is a aesthetic element to the x-rays since they are tinted in various soft hues; thus moving the images away from the harsh clinical presentation traditional to x-rays.

Another piece worth noting is Bill Viola's "Memoria." The only part of the exhibition properly isolated, it is comprised of a handkerchief suspended in mid-air in a darkened room and a grainy image of a face projected on to this floating fabric. The viewer enters a serene and mysterious space and is confronted with a floating apparition. It is through the process of slowly approaching the image, some bolder visitors daring to look behind "the curtain" of the handkerchief, that one realizes that in video, as in sight, all is not what it appears to be. Aptly referred to as a modern day shroud of Turin in the wall text, this piece is allegorical to technology as our new god and humanity as the sacrificed Jesus.

Despite the aesthetic strengths, neither Viola's or Sester's pieces compares to the fervently powerful video entitled "ekleipsis," by Tran T. Kim-Krang. Documenting hysterical blindness in a group of Cambodian women who survived the Khmer Rouge, its premise of the pathological reaction to inhumanities is entrancing if not lachrymal. Regrettably, the other pieces in the exhibition fail to present either the beauty or the emotional power of the aforementioned works. In all they seem confused, disjunctive, and even unethical. Even if all the works were successful, an exhibition such as this runs the risk of emulating a carnival funhouse: proceeding through a chthonic maze with an auditory of undeterminable weeps and moans. Here the pieces are not given enough room to breathe, to allow the viewer to rest in between environments. It is only the strength of the works by artists like Viola, Sester, and Kim-Krang that the well-intentioned goal of investigating video and our perception is perceptively performed.

Blind Vision: Video and the Limits of Perception at the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 South Market Street (at San Fernando) through November 14, 2001
www.sjmusart.org