Today, the question of what constitutes “fine art” is perhaps harder to answer for video — which has seen a proliferation of platforms that allow anyone to easily post content — than it is for any other artistic medium. This lack of clarity is, in part, what makes Aggregate Space’s annual open call video show so crucial. It prompts us to consider what about a video intrigues us, what makes us feel, and to what extent videos have the capacity to both document and shape our life experiences.
This year, that final question is especially relevant, considering the theme and title of the show: Flesh and Blood. The works collectively amount to a journey through life — they meditate on infancy and death, memory and identity, family and heritage.
Megan Wynne’s My Puppet could be considered the start. The video, which runs less than two minutes, features Wynne’s newly born child’s soft, sleeping face gently lit in front of a black background, with the tiniest lips and largest eyes. By placing her thumb on the baby’s chin and pulling open his or her mouth very slightly, Wynne ventriloquizes a few honest sentiments: “I love you mommy, thank you for letting me suck your nipples raw all hours of the day and night.” The piece feels slightly taboo, as if subverting something that’s supposed to be cherished, but that’s what makes it engrossing.
My Puppet’s chronological counterpart is Walter’s Wandering Set (Self-Surveillance) by Toby Kaufmann-Buhler, a five-minute film that recalls the last moments before a patriarch’s death, told simultaneously through various family members’ perspectives. Meanwhile, footage of a steaming teapot abstracted by kaleidoscopic editing signals a life that’s ready to be taken off the fire, a vessel being vacated by its ghostly innards.
The piece that felt the most contemporary was Simón García-Miñaúr’s An Unexpected Visit, a comically melodramatic story about a chance encounter with a past lover, brilliantly told through two channels installed as a diptych — one showing the protagonist, and the other showing his point of view. The nameless protagonist wears a full-body, green-screen suit throughout the film’s five-minute running time, the past lover is a haphazardly computer-generated avatar with no emotion, and the voice-over narration is a melancholic robot voice with a stiffness that satirizes the histrionic text. Post-internet art rarely offers narrative intrigue, but An Unexpected Visit is instantly enthralling, with a subtle absurdity that reflects on the contrived nature of digital depictions and the odd ways in which computers allow us to manufacture a self outside of our physical being.
Unlike in a typical juried show, Flesh and Blood’s works — which were chosen from a large pool of submission — do not simply represent the best works entered. Rather, they’re the ones that coalesced into a theme organically, that floated to the pool’s surface. The result is a show that’s less about attempting to delineate a hierarchy of aesthetic values for video work and more about making sense of the medium’s capacity to encapsulate moments, feelings, and poetry, and deliver them back to us with unmatched sensory richness — the closest thing to real life.