Saturday, May 4, 2013

Free City & Jason Mitcham

We went to a curious art festival called Free City last night in Flint. We'd caught a few minutes of a conversation about it that morning on the Craig Fahle show and liked what we heard: something something old Chevy plant, something something light art. Well, why not?  The last (& first) time I was in Flint I was 15 and watching that terrible Avengers movie with Uma Thurman & Sean Connery at the drive-in.

Free City (at least this first night -- it's a three day festival) was kind of a mess. Poorly lit, difficult to navigate, and attended (pretty sparsely) by as many rowdy, wasted teenagers as arty types. Not that we had a bad time, exactly. There was a certain sloppy, anarchic, '80s movie charm about the whole thing. It was like ... an art carnival, complete with hot dogs.

Some of the art was pretty exciting, including a big inflatable silver dome (remember Starlab?) with a party waiting to happen inside. One participant at a time pedaled a stationary bike that powered a stereo blasting "Move This" by Technotronic. There was a tiny disco ball hanging from the very top of the dome, and if you weren't dancing or making the music happen, you could make bubbles with tennis rackets, instead.

There was also a pretty spiral made from strings of different colored LED lights. It seemed to invite participation, so I walked through it, carefully & concentrically, for about five minutes until I got to the center, where jets were spraying cold mist. Later I talked to the artist and she seemed surprised that people were walking through it. And by "surprised," I mean "dismayed but resigned." I told her I was sorry, but that it seemed like it was made to be interacted with. I think mostly she was sad that drunk kids were stepping on her light bulbs & breaking them.

The highlight of the evening, though, was the work of Jason Mitcham, the whole reason I wanted to write this. His stop motion paintings stopped us in our tracks, and made the ~140 mile round trip excursion totally worth it.

Each short video piece is assembled out of still images of a single, painstakingly altered painting. These keenly observed depictions of American-style progress are rendered in a rapid, fluid visual language that shows the viewer years, even decades, in minutes. In constant forward motion, we see landscapes, development, construction, infrastructure and economic boom; we also see transformation, neglect, collapse, and decay. Mitcham's moving paintings provide lyrical & transcendent birds' eye views of triumph, folly, and the steady erosions of time. They pull us back from the historical moments and processes we unconsciously inhabit, thereby revealing them.

According to the artist, he is inspired by Robert Smithson's view of suburbs as "rising into ruin." "They exist without a past," he writes, "at least in any real sense, and thus have no hope for a lasting future.  As they are being built, their immanent decay can already be predicted."

Below are three examples of his work, all of which were featured at Free City. (The last one is a music video for "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise" by the Avett Brothers.)

This Land is Your Land from Jason Mitcham on Vimeo.

Valley of Ashes: A Brief History of Flushing Meadows from Jason Mitcham on Vimeo.

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise from Jason Mitcham on Vimeo.

For more examples of Jason Mitcham's work, check out his Vimeo page.

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