Micah Stansell’s Presynaptic Potential, which unfortunately will only be on view through this Saturday, January 16, is a big-time undertaking: five projections displaying five different channels of video, spread across three walls of one of Atlanta’s more imposing spaces, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. This is not your parents’ video art. Where artists like Naumann or Baldessari used the camera as a crude but ruthlessly efficient documentary device, Stansell’s video work presents us with something more lush and cinematic.
Stansell isn’t just an artist who uses video, but a genuine Video Artist, one whose craft makes full use of the medium in terms of monumental scale, rich color, movement, time, sound, and so on. (The video even stars a rather breathtaking female lead.) It’s all very beautiful, and very slick, maybe even a little too slick. I found that the production value was at times a distraction from the more delicate and human content of the film. The various edits and visual effects, though they effectively convey the film’s illusory, almost phantom, narrative, at times bordered on a kind of film-industry mannerism.
That said, the installation as a whole goes a long way toward insuring that Stansell’s films are experienced as something other than “industry standard.” With the two largest projections placed exactly opposite each other, one on the left and one on the right as you enter the space, Stansell creates a dynamic and kinetic viewing experience. It’s impossible to see both screens at once, and yet it is immediately apparent that both are happening at once—that the imagery of the two screens occupies the same narrative space and time. Trying to take in both channels simultaneously is the experiential equivalent of the kind of “dyadic relationships” and “binary pairings” that Stansell speaks of in his statement about the work. The twin projection screens are two hopelessly separate, yet contiguous and interdependent realities. Three smaller, circular projections line the back wall of the gallery and function collectively like a kind of Greek chorus witnessing the tragedy unfolding in the main projections. The edges of these smaller projections seem to constantly shift and dance, but on closer inspection, you realize that this effect results from the videos’ projection through circular holes cut into sheets of paper.
Suffice it to say that there’s something supremely charming about an installation dominated by big, crisp, cutting-edge video projections in which one of the most important visual effects is the result of three sheets of 8.5 x 11 copy paper and a handful of butterfly clips. In this instance, as in many others, Stansell’s inventiveness, creativity, and willingness to experiment come shining through. Literally.