Antoine Catala, Couple in a Garden

Tony Wight Gallery has become one of a handful of go-to galleries in Chicago where I consistently encounter paintings that get me to think more deeply about, well, painting. I hadn’t given that same level of consideration to video art in awhile, at least until an encounter last Friday with Wight’s latest offering, a 13 minute video projection titled Couple in a Garden by the French-born, NY based artist Antoine Catala.

I was initially put off by the gimmicky psychedelic trippery of Catala’s piece, which uses datamoshing— visible information loss caused by extreme data compression–to make the image of two people standing in front of a garden appear to sag, swirl and drip like the juicy innards of a lava lamp. (Catala has used this same technique previously, to notable effect). Yet the soundtrack (by Ensemble/Olivier Alary) consists of a low-lying, atonal thrum that was just annoying enough to prevent me from mindlessly consuming these images as if they were, indeed, bottled within a lava lamp, mesmerized though I was by the disintegration and reconfiguration of the couple projected in front of me.

To be sure, there’s nothing all that revolutionary about Catala’s techniques here. Datamoshing has already been used extensively in music videos (see this post on Kottke for numerous examples), and yet, despite its cliches, I found Couple in a Garden exhilerating to watch, the more so the longer I stayed. At first, I busied myself with trying to figure out who was the boy, who was the girl, etc. etc., but it soon became much more interesting to consider the possibility that, when confronted with images like Catala’s, such distinctions are beside the point–which, I think, is the point.

Among other things, Michael Jackson was vilified for his attempts transcend race, gender, and to some degree age itself by “datamoshing” his own body through radical surgical modifications. His death two weeks ago highlighted the pathos and futility of such efforts, but for me, Catala’s Couple in a Garden recaptures the essentially Utopian thrust of that desire, and some of its underlying innocence as well.

You can watch a 3 minute excerpt of Couple in a Garden on Catalo’s website here. The exhibition is on view through July 31st.

Claudine Isé

Claudine Isé has worked in the field of contemporary art as a writer and curator for the past decade, and currently serves as the Editor of the Art21 Blog. Claudine regularly writes for Artforum.com and Chicago magazine, and has also worked as an art critic for the Los Angeles Times. Before moving to Chicago in 2008, she worked at the Wexner Center in Columbus, OH as associate curator of exhibitions, and at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles as assistant curator of contemporary art, where she curated a number of Hammer Projects. She has Ph.D. in Film, Literature and Culture from the University of Southern California.