Andy Holtin: A Theatre of Objects

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Editorial Review

Tech tools help explore human condition

By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

"Andy Holtin: A Theatre of Objects" is a cool little show. That's true in both senses. The exhibition of three sculptural video works at Flashpoint Gallery is both nifty and a wee bit chilly.

The nifty part hits you first. "A Theatre of Objects" comprises several sleek LCD video displays, projectors and whirring motors. It's a techie's dream. (Not to mention pretty cutting-edge contemporary art. Video makers who embrace the screen -- or the projector -- as an aesthetic object, and not just a tool, are all the rage.)

The most clever piece in the show is "Glance." A pair of roughly iPad-size displays hang on the wall, several feet apart. On the left-hand screen is a woman's unsmiling face (performer Ellen Chenoweth). To the right, there's a man's bearded, equally deadpan, mug. (Though unidentified, it's the artist himself.)

Though both are facing forward, Chenoweth and Holton periodically cast furtive, sidelong glances at each other -- or, rather, at each other's video image -- like two people checking each other out in a bar. As they do, the screens, which are attached to motors, also pivot slightly, then turn away. The dance of seduction taking place on the video screens is mimicked by the screens themselves. It's a funny sendup of cruising rituals.

A second installation also involves an ingenious mechanical setup. "You Made This Happen" features a pair of video projectors hooked up to a pair of motors. As you watch the projected, side-by-side videos (each of which features performer Enrico Wey and an ordinary table and chair), the twin projectors swivel from side to side, so the two video images briefly overlap, then separate. At times, Wey appears to be sitting facing his own twin, across the table. At other moments, he's standing up, as his ghostly doppelganger lies on the tabletop, like a cadaver.

This piece is fun but also kind of spooky.

"Passage" is the most formal of Holtin's three installations. Set up in the middle of the gallery, it consists of nine LCD displays hanging from the ceiling in a tight circle. Viewers stand in the middle of the circle to watch -- in an audio-visual evocation of Sensurround -- as performers Kelly Bond and Benjamin Wegman enter into and exit from one or more of the screens, at times walking, running, stumbling and standing. It's the least theatrical of "A Theatre of Objects" but the most modern-dance-like. The placement of Bond's and Wegman's bodies is paramount, but there's little evidence of the performers' souls.

Which brings me to what's ultimately somewhat chilly about "Theatre." Like a new, battery-operated toy on Christmas, each work has an initial wow factor. After playing with Holtin's robotic objects -- and their ideas -- for a while, they lose some of their novelty, if not all of their power.