Exhibition Review: Ephraim
The Video Art of Elizabeth Neel
by Brian Christensen
What do you expect to see during a visit to Sanpete County in central Utah; sheep wandering across a small town main street, beau colic landscape, turkey farms? In general, you would be right, but if you are talking about Ephraim, Utah you might also include cutting edge, time-based video art. Elizabeth Neel, (granddaughter of the acclaimed 20th century portrait painter Alice Neel) has created a recent solo video exhibition at the Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, Utah.
A recent student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Neel has also studied Evolutionary Biology, Religion, History, and received her BA in European History at Brown University in 1997. In 2001 Elizabeth was a finalist for the Dana Pond Award for Excellence in painting and was selected for a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. She has shown work in a variety of public and private venues on the East coast. Most recently, she presented a video as part of the Bronx Council on the Arts Conversations project in New York City. Elizabeth lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
On entering the exhibition at the CUAC you are met with six moving video images on the walls of the exhibition space. Three images are projected onto the walls and three more images appear on large format, flat screen monitors. The projections are a short loop of a moving action repeated continuously, which gives the impression of a moment caught in time, much in the manner of a narrative painting. In After Guernica |1|, a horse stretches its neck and whinnies, its nostrils flaring, lips curled and head shaking in a striking parallel to the prominent horse in Picasso's masterpiece. In this example lies the power and irony of Neel's projections. The piece appears as a moving painting, living out a moment in time for the viewer, over and over again, yet time-based video has a tradition of linear narrative. This work, while dealing with movement, is cyclical rather than linear in its narrative and allows the viewer to experience the microcosm of a moment like a painting rather than the breadth of a narrative like a movie. A good comparison might be Edward Muybridge's chronographic projections from the late 19th century when the viewer was first able to analyze the nuances of animal locomotion through photographic series.
The other wall projections include Bull Ride: Fall |2| in which a rodeo bull rider repeatedly and violently falls from his mount, and Stand -- a dark and ghostly image of a horse struggling to its knees and standing. Neel says of Bull Ride: Fall, "These videos document part of a rodeo--a sporting event that has an iconic quality fundamental to our American identity." She also makes reference to the bullfight paintings of Manet, Picasso, and Goya. Indeed, the video seems to eclipse American nostalgia and points to something more universal pertaining to honor, tragedy, and life's struggle that is captured in those paintings and in fact, the rodeo and the bullfight itself.
The video on the monitors, titled Event, takes a subtly different direction than the projections. This work is an ongoing collaboration between Elizabeth and her husband, Andrew Neel. The high definition video and large monitors allow the viewer to be absorbed into the sensory details of a moment in time. The titles of the segments may give some insight into the subject matter:
James R. Kopp Falls Asleep at the Wheel |3|, October 1995, 56 seconds
Elizabeth Neel Guts a Fish, June 2004, 30 minutes 20 seconds
Roberto Baggio Makes a World Cup Goal |4|, June 1990, 3 minutes 32 seconds
Joan of Arc Receives a Vision, November 1424, 2 minutes 10 seconds
Ned Benson Loses a Ring, January 2004, 56 seconds
Kathy Secard Erases an Appointment, March 2003, 56 seconds
David Soyer Plays Bach’s Suite No. 1, Prelude, January, 2004, 2 minutes 50 seconds
Andrew and Elizabeth Neel present re-enactments of a famous or anonymous event using both actors and actual participants. This series addresses the assignment of scope and significance to certain pieces of time over others and the theatrical quality of these isolated phenomena. Event probes the basic metaphysical assumptions of cause and effect that are at the heart of historical narrative. Each piece is shot in high definition video and consciously engages with historical representation in terms of painting, film, photography, and video. This work collectively betrays both the seduction and the anxiety associated with the presentation and consumption of history. Event allows the viewer to confront his or her own anticipations and expectations of time and the past.
In Elizabeth Neel Guts a Fish, there is timeless quality and austerity in the simple action of the event that brings to mind the canonized or ritualistic domestic still life paintings of the Northern Renaissance. This Canonized moment is contrasted and balanced by the ordinary and matter-of-fact causality implicit in all of the video pieces. Elizabeth Neel strikes a universal cord with her recent video work, which is sympathetic to the ritual beauty and individual nature of common events.
For further information about Elizabeth Neel contact:Central Utah Art Center
Brian Christensen graduated with an MFA from Washington University, St. Louis in 1992 and is currently an Associate Professor of Sculpture at Brigham Young University
Central Utah Art Center . . . from page 1
This transformation of the Art Center is a result of the vision of local boy, Adam Bateman, who found himself returning to his hometown after a decade of studies, which culminated with an MFA from New York’s Pratt Institute in 2003. After securing gallery representation with New York’s Gallery Boreas, Bateman decided to return home to Ephraim.
At first, Bateman began running a community English as a Second Language program for migrant workers in the area, but when the former CUAC faced closure, Bateman quickly stepped in to provide a vision and the necessary direction to make the vision a reality. When the Art Center lost one of its funders, Greenthumb, the paid docents who manned the center quit and Center Director and President of the Board, Kathleen Peterson, considered closing up shop. Bateman told the board that if they would hire him as the director (Peterson had been unpaid) he would not only increase attendance but would make the Center a formidable art venue with a series of contemporary exhibitions.
Despite its rural location, Ephraim has some features that helped the formation of the CUAC. The town is home to Snow College, with a number of artists, professors and instructors interested in Bateman’s efforts with the Center. In addition, Sanpete County is home to a number of artists and, as in the case of Spring City, many part-time resident artists with national reputations. But what Bateman went about creating was unlike anything the area had seen. Even few venues in Salt Lake come close to doing what Bateman has set up.
With the board’s support and funding, and the donated space from the city, Bateman went to work. First he took the old paintings down and had their owners pick them up. Some had been up for a number of years, ill at ease on the uneven walls of the limestone building. The oolite limestone bricks, typical of the valley’s early architecture, have been exposed both on the exterior and on the inside walls of the upper level. All the rafters and old floor joists have been left exposed. The result is a very clean, sparse, solid space, the old materials and architecture juxtaposed against the very contemporary work displayed.
Next, Bateman began developing shows that fit the Center’s new direction. The most recent exhibit, which came down at the end of April, featured the work of video artist Elizabeth Neel. Three large TV screens showed seven loops of video, created by the artist, which featured an unchanged shot of varying activities: hands clean the innards of a fish, a woman stands in a wooded landscape, a man watches the World Cup. Simultaneously, on three separate walls, projectors displayed three videos caught in a continuous loop of a few seconds. A rider is in the process of being thrown from a bull; a horse shakes its mane and body; a ghostly-lit stallion moves slightly while seated on the ground. (For a review of the show, see the article by Brian Christensen)
This type of Contemporary Art, comfortable in the postmodern world of cultural identity and artistic experimentation, is what Bateman is most interested in and what he wants to bring to the Center. He speaks of creating an “ethos” a certain context for the Center, by bringing national and international artists (and critics) that will provide recognition and clout to the space so that when he shows Utah artists working in a similar genre there will be a certain level of appreciation and respect, both locally and nationally. “What I’d really like to do is show a mix of high quality artists from out of state and really good contemporary artists in Utah and some of the best, most reputable artists in Utah who may or may not be contemporary artists.”
Not all of the shows at the Center will be something out of Manhattan. The CUAC will also serve the artists of the area. This month, the work of Sanpete High School students, co-sponsored by Snow College, will be on display. In July, a juried show entitled the Sanpete Summer Salon, will feature the work of Sanpete artists.
Bateman’s vision seems to be working. The Center has gone from having an average monthly attendance of thirty to over six hundred in recent months with the number increasing monthly. Bateman estimates that about a third of these are visitors from the Wasatch Front. Upwards of forty of these are coming specifically to visit the CUAC, a fact which can’t help but please local business people.
Bateman has also seen the number of local visitors increase. He realizes that the average citizen of Ephraim may not be comfortable with the work he is displaying, but he is eager to use the Center to create an educational atmosphere. A recent exhibition of abstract pieces served as an interactive learning experience with the community. “I think people are really eager to learn,” Bateman says. “I think abstract paintings are a good teaching tool because people come in and are like ‘I don’t know how to look at an abstract painting,’ and I say ‘Well, here are some things to look for in an abstract painting.’” So far the experience has been very positive. “People may not like the paintings when they leave,” he says, “but they can appreciate what the artist is doing and the next time they look at abstract painting they know what to look for.”
As funding for the Center increases, Bateman and the board plan to increase the educational component of their mission. They intend to have Snow College volunteers teach art classes in the Elementary School, where little or no arts education is being offered. The basement of the center will be used to offer art classes to children and adults. As funding increases, Bateman hopes to hire an education coordinator to run these programs.
To learn more about the center, their exhibition schedule and how you can help their continued efforts to bring high-quality contemporary art to central Utah, visit their website atwww.cuartcenter.org