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Jeremy Blake: Winchester at SFMOMA

An Evocative, Visually Ravishing Trilogy

Jeremy Blake conjures up the ghosts of the Winchester Mystery House in his evocative, visually ravishing trilogy Winchester. Presented as a triptych and screened simultaneously Winchester, 2002, 1906, 2003 and Century 21, 2004, explore the paranoia and madness that drove the Winchester rifle heiress Sarah Winchester to build a sprawling mansion in San Jose to pacify the spirits of those killed by her family's famous firearms.

The trilogy echoes the dreamy landscapes of eye-popping color Blake used in animations for the movie Punch-Drunk Love and his Sea Change album cover design for Beck. The strength of Blake's work lies in his painterly manipulation of computer-generated forms. Winchester, 2002, the most painterly and minimal of the three animations is also the most successful. A fading still photograph of the Winchester house is taken over by trippy sequences of melting color, silhouettes of cowboys and glowing points of light. Vertical symmetry creates a vortex at the center of the screen feeding the morphing composition.

1906, 2003 incorporates 8mm film of the interior of the house. Though Blake lacks some camera skills and fails to translate to film the bizarre architecture of the mansion, details of the wallpaper and stairs become a ripe source of inspiration for the painterly passages of the video. Loopy white line drawings add texture and Blake's use of color remains strong.

In the last animation in the series Century 21, 2004 Blake uses even more film footage, and adds cartoons and Hollywood film stills to boot. A few gorgeous moments aside, this messy collage of imagery lacks the poetry of the other animations. Static photos popping in and out of view make transitions hurky-jerky instead of smooth. Many of the images look hokey, laser beams shooting out of people's eyes or a rainbow flowing out of a bullet hole in someone's head. They might be fun on a t-shirt or in a dance punk video but their kitsch spoils Blake's art.

Mired in references to spaghetti westerns, frontier myths, and the idolization of the lone gunslinger Century 21, 2004 feels clunky and heavy handed. It is an ambitious but flawed novel to the haiku of Winchester, 2002. In parts of the trilogy the ecstatic experience of color and light create an almost overwhelming feeling of being in the moment. Hopefully the pure beauty of his first animations will not be lost, as narrative becomes a greater driving force in his work.

Jeremy Blake: Winchester
February 19, 2005 - August 14, 2005
SFMOMA
Monday-Sunday
11AM-6PM
Closed Wednesdays
Admission: $10