William Hempel’s M.F.A. Thesis Exhibition entitled Clichés, opened on April 12th at Pratt Institute. The gallery highlights three video installations of the artist physically performing everyday clichés. This project began before his M.F.A education and with the accumulated thesis show here appears to be resolved. He may not be the only video artist attending Pratt’s M.F.A. program but he definitely makes the strongest argument with his work.
In Cliché #23, (paint yourself into a corner), the artist, literally paints himself into the corner. This particular work is the most intriguing, through the 39 minute loop we can watch the picture (cliché) invert itself. By the time he has successfully painted himself into a corner he has painted a picture that has no corners and no dimensions, only the dimension of the scrutinizing eye of the camera which always is the scrutinizing eye of the viewer. I took great pleasure in viewing the second video, Cliché, #24 (put your foot in your mouth) The artist begins in a Buddha-like position then rapidly contorts himself to be able to shove his foot in his mouth. There is a presence of erotic fetishism here; those with a secret fascination with feet and an overt love for video art with take great enjoyment in this one. The third video projection, Cliché #26 (dig your own grave), obviously has the artist digging his own grave. This one lasts almost five hours then repeats. He works through heat and exhaustion to dig his own grave. Let us just hope he does not bury himself afterwards because Hempel has a future ahead of him.
All three digital projections are silent and appear to make the gallery more spacious in its theatre like setting. As for this silent element in the work, I find it to be crucial. There is no need to hear that electronic fuzz, it is what the philosopher and Lacanian scholar, Slavjo Zizek, insists is the “intrusion of the voice at this point would ruin the whole effect, more precisely: it would ruin its sublime dimension.”(p. 23, Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom!) Hempel has a deep dimension of sincerity in the work and while his voice is absent, his passion is not.
Hempel literalizes the cliché and in the process elevates it into art, specifically video art. The viewer may forget these clichés are all negative. The clichés are the ones where we over exert ourselves and are left sleeping in the beds we make. The artist would like these works to be an “emphasis on language structures, communications, and evolving systems of significance and signification.”(Artist Statement) He appears to be acknowledging esoteric claims of perception of social meaning through language and our system of signifiers. I wonder if the artist missed the smaller point. He desires to achieve much with these signifiers (Clichés) through the medium in which he chose to execute the exhibition with, this case being video. Video projection with a concrete performative element on screen is the signifier of these constructs that he cites in his statement. I understand the architecture of the work in relation to video art and only afterwards, should there be intellectual elucidation. Through the whole duration of the videos, I was seeing a video not reading an intellectual thesis. I hope the artist can enjoy what he does and take artistic satisfaction in his materials. It is a disservice to his future, if he rationally deconstructs everything down to a bunch of signifiers. With that said, Hempel avoids the trappings of lesser artists where he, through process, does not become an Art Cliché.
April 27th, 2010