Transmodern, Day Four: Altered States
By Alex Ebstein
Altered States, a satellite Transmodern exhibition and the latest curatorial endeavor by Jamillah James, delivers an impressive--dare-we-say all-star, both local and national--roster of video, installation, and new media artists, with a killer live performance at the opening to boot. Bringing the work of major, contemporary artists--including a video piece by the Providence-based collective Forcefield, which consists of Matt Brinkman, Jim Drain, Ara Peterson, and Leif Goldberg--into the Baltimore and Transmodern spectrum, while simultaneously highlighting local artists working in the same vein, Altered States helps to uphold the level of professionalism that the Transmodern festival has achieved with each year's manifestation.
Though unfortunately limited to the smaller, second-floor gallery at Load of Fun, James more than made due with the space's awkward, hallway layout. Projecting two larger videos and screening additional pieces on television monitors--along with three major installations by Erin Womak, a collaboration between Caitlin Williams and Sarah Milinski, and the New Jedi Order--the space is full without being overcrowded. Cohesive in its overall aesthetic and celebrating the action of making work over the idea of art as product, the exhibition is an intentional throwback to 1960s fringe, communal subcultures. A majority of the included works are collaborative projects, with the pieces by individual artists echoing the idea of a collective ceremony. Womack displays a beautifully eerie series of masks, many of which were seen in her ritual, performance/installation during last year's Transmodern festival, while Jimmy Joe Roche plays the part of a spiritualist in his video.
As a whole, the video work is comprised of experimental forms and ambiguous imagery. Familiar images and symbols lose their recognition and meaning within each strange context. In watching the looping footage melt from one visual reference into the next, a greater narrative is never obvious. EMR's (Matt Bass and Dylan Mira's Extreme Mature Respect) and Forcefield's respective pieces reflect a vague communal or teamwork effort to an indeterminate end, although EMR's repetitious imagery of linking arms arguably climaxes with an unrelated explosion.
Marking the closing of Transmodern and the opening of Altered States, Sunday night's music performances were similarly themed and well-considered. Featuring the indisputably awesome line-up of the Lexie Mountain Boys, Soft Circle, and Ra Khuit Noor (a performance by Erin Womak and Ravi Binning, which exceeded the average attention span by three minutes or so). Perhaps the only blip was the inclusion of New York's Blues Control. Purposefully ambient, the band has the stage presence of an iPod, an uncomfortably sharp contrast to the upbeat energy of its fellow performers.
Despite its satellite location, Altered States pushes the Transmodern envelope and manages to capture its generally uncontainable energy in a gallery exhibition. Perhaps a glimpse into the future of the festival, and certainly a concise and digestible cross-section of the overall, four-day program, Altered States helps to establish this Baltimore institution's art-world relevance and reinforces its infinite potential. Altered States was a one-night-only event, and compelling enough to make us look forward to James' future projects.