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From Quiet Prints to Riotous Acts

Anderson Gallery shows two distinctly different exhibits.


The first image viewers encounter is Sir Francis Seymour Haden's "Etching Hands." Made in about 1860, the image portrays the hands and partial arms of a printmaker working on a printing plate. As Haden renders the hands and printmaking tools with attention to detail, he ignores the rest of the figure, using the space where the torso would be to etch a line in Latin from Horace, translated to mean, "Oh sweet solace of labors." The detachment of limbs from their body and the random placement of text appear almost contemporary in their disconnection, resembling the separated images and language Tisserat and Freed sometimes use in their own work. It's an image that honors the tradition of printmaking, especially the physical nature of the work involved.

"Highlights" favors masterfully rendered figurative imagery. Lavish gestures in four Rembrandt etchings and chiseled draftsmanship in three D�rer etchings are but the tip of the iceberg. Tisserat and Freed also cull from a wealth of 19th- and early-20th-century prints and combine them with reverence and a bit of humor, as with Rembrandt's "Woman Bathing Her Feet in a Brook" (1658), in which a nude's seated position nearly matches the pose and scale of the print adjacent to it, Reginald Marsh's "Two Girls on a Subway" (1928).

Made up of 33 pieces, the exhibition is a small but gem-filled collection of surprises. Two are rare books of literature: "The Departure of the Argonaut" by Alberto Savinio, illustrated by Francesco Clemente (1986), and a collection of poems by C.P. Cavafy, illustrated by David Hockney (1966). In both, the binding and typesetting are as integral to the aesthetic experience as each artist's visual contributions.

Climbing the stairs to enter the second-floor galleries, one leaves the relative calm that characterizes "Highlights" and enters literal darkness and an assault of sound to experience "Disturbance," a series of video installations by Bob Paris. A Virginia Commonwealth University kinetic imaging faculty member, Paris shuffles and manipulates video recordings made during three days of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992, producing four works installed throughout the second floor.

Paris reacts to the dire events as reported and padded by television news teams, advertising and programming by reworking the footage, forcing it through a visual sieve, and airing a number of distillations of varying sizes and configurations of monitor screens. Accompanied by stark soundtracks, each of the installations seems to be visually and audibly digesting the original television tracks like they are poisonous gruel.

In the haunting yet beautiful "Signal," the recycled footage becomes a painterly slow-motion collision of indistinguishable shapes in lights and darks. In a more stoic installation of 10 screens called "Constellation," he adds text such as "We're Stuck Here" and "Don't Feel Defenseless." These statements scroll across the screens as if to mock the weightless and removed rhetoric delivered by news media. In every instance Paris abbreviates or abstracts the scenes to produce a dreamlike memory of the events.

"Disturbance" indeed interrupts a sense of equilibrium, but its affectations lessen the sting of its bite. Though Paris effectively raises questions of how viewers of television media receive information, his own filtering of footage dilutes the meaning of the events of those three days to a series of Gothic interludes — visually sumptuous, emotionally lingering, yet intellectually disappointing. S

"Highlights: Print Selections from the Permanent Collection" and "Disturbance" by Bob Paris are both showing at VCU's Anderson Gallery through March 5.


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