Friday, March 7, 2008 to Saturday, April 5, 2008

    • Saturday, March 8, 2008
    Having a conversation with Chris Flower is a bit like playing a pinball machine. Thoughts ricochet in unpredictable directions, deflecting off objects, words, and other thoughts, lights go off and bells ping. His work is equally dizzying, playful and engaging. Curiosity about how things work – and more importantly, how they can work differently, and how this, in turn, affects and subverts our perception of things – is at the core of Flower’s practice. He exercises a kind of controlled recklessness with his materials that would make a lesser tinkerer pale. Video game consoles, digital cameras, scanners, televisions and more, are all materials he dismantles and reconfigures with the confidence of someone who can get himself out of a mess of loose parts. Chris Flower’s work is compelling because of its technical wizardry, its formal beauty and its simple familiarity. In the spirit of alchemy, like a compulsive cause and effect addict, Flower gives ‘life’ to inanimate objects through the application of unseen force. Box Videos (2001– 2006) Within the confines of a small box, a series of vignettes play out before us, rewriting the laws of gravity and our sense of expectation. A humble bagel hurls itself with aplomb against a wooden dowel and attempts to self-impale. A banana is bullied by a brick and relentlessly pursued until it is mashed to a pulp. Cans of Coke, beer bottles, raw eggs, light bulbs and hard chunks of snow are violently tossed about in this chamber of torture, battered until they are reduced to sad and broken piles. The box itself doesn’t fare much better. It is doused with water and ink, set on fire, drilled into and sawed through, and beaten with a heavy chain. All of this, of course, is hilariously funny. On the lighter side of things, the box is also the setting for fluffy white clouds to hover, for plastic googly-eyes to explore, and for cats, a bird and a goldfish to quietly (and separately) hang out in. Using an old illusionist’s trick, Flower attaches a video camera to the open wall of this box, where the contents can be filmed as the box is spun and shaken. Because camera and box are fixed to each other, the contents appear to defy gravity when the video is played on a stable monitor. But what if that monitor were spun and shaken too? For years, Flower has treated television monitors in much the same way he treats his video boxes – that is, as accomplices in the creation of illusion. These televisions, like so many everyday objects Flower gets hold of, are divested of their usual, benign function and made to perform feats normally considered beyond their capacity. Spinning TV (2007) is a single-channel kinetic video sculpture. In it, an overhead view of a bowl of fruit filmed by a spinning video camera is played on a wall-mounted flat screen monitor that spins in the opposite direction at a rate of 400rpms. The ‘canceling-out’ of both spinning actions results in an oscillating still-life image of the fruit, whereby the centre is relatively static, with the edges of the image gradually spinning and blurring out, creating a true vertigo effect. Paint (2006) is a series of single-channel videos whereby paint, varnish, ink and other pigmented liquids pour onto a blank surface. With gravity as the only intervening force, the paint flows freely, changing direction mid-stream and combining with other liquids to form a range of colours and abstract patterns, eventually filling the entire picture plane. Viewed as an evolving, hypnotic image, one is reminded of satellite images of the earth’s surface, or the bottom of a dumpster after a spring thaw; such is the back and forth play of the beautiful and disturbing nature of these viscous liquids. Streetari (2007) is a two-channel video installation in the form of a ‘kinetic video game’. Consisting of a small box housed within a simple mechanized wood structure, one can peer into the top of this mini street scene and watch the box tilt back and forth, manipulated by our handling of the joystick. Pushing buttons makes a pair of small metal legs kick at the ball as it rolls from one end of the box to the other, like a foosball game. There are no scoring opportunities here; the challenge simply lies in making leg and ball connect through our own manual dexterity. However, it soon becomes evident that the actions played out within this street scene correspond to the images on each television, the illusion made more complex by the rubber ball seamlessly traveling from one TV set to another. Here, innocent play becomes mediated surveillance when we discover the two miniature cameras mounted to box capture every kinetic move and provide the live feed to the neighboring TV monitors. Something about the static image of an urban back lane suggests the potential of something sinister. Suddenly, the line between game player and vigilant monitor is blurred. Chris Flower’s work tests the boundaries of opposing forces – control / chaos, work / play, extraordinary / mundane – to activate our own sense of curiosity and wonder. - Jo-Anne Balcaen Jo-Anne Balcaen is a Montreal-based artist and cultural worker. She was one of the founding members of the short-lived Star Wars Pinball Club, which played its first and last tournament at the Royal Albert Arms Hotel in Winnipeg in February 1994.