One of the most delightful aspects of Seth Price’s show of new video works at Petzel Gallery is the element of chance. Unless you’re by yourself in the gallery, the movements of your fellow art viewers dictate your progress through the exhibit. In Non Speech, Fire & Smoke, each video work is presented as a solo experience and can be viewed by only one person at a time, in separate viewing booths—recalling both the earliest days of cinema at penny arcades and the contemporary condition of solitary internet video browsing. What this means is the progression of your experience of the exhibition happens by chance encounter. After finishing one video piece (most last about two to three minutes), the next one you'll watch will be whichever one is available, defeating the usual exhibition paradigm of a circumambulatory circuit. It’s rather as if the exhibition is on shuffle.
Each work is presented as a music video, with electronic music tracks recorded by the artist played over found and/or recycled footage from the last ten years. Where Price truly intrigues is with his stories, Rolling Skull and Fire & Smoke, imbued with mythologies and ghosts, esoteric and vaguely instructive, like dark fairy tales from a lost oral tradition. Yet in most cases the soundtrack has nothing to do with the image; the music impassive and detached while the video replays incidents of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, so lo-fi as to be almost completely abstract.
Like any album of music, Seth Price’s exhibit has the requisite ballads and the dance numbers, the hits and the more forgettable tracks. A sheet of explanatory notes on each video is available at the gallery, revealing the sources of the footage and each accompanying track. Gathered from sources like military reels, films videotaped from TV, leftover footage from previous projects, super-8 films, and online videos, the images mostly concern war and terrorism, carefully noted in relation to the events of 9/11. He admits in his notes that quite a lot of the footage in the videos and many of the soundtracks were simply things he “never knew what to do with,” until joining them together. At worst the videos seem like random leftovers of other creative activities. At best, they provide a disturbing look at the decade--one marked by war, terror and disaster.
Many of his videos can also be experienced from the comfort of your own solitary domestic viewing station—on YouTube. His album Honesty--the cover of which, in a nod to Warhol, shows a dark, mustachioed woman gingerly holding up an overripe banana--is available on AVA Records, and you can listen to it on pink vinyl at the gallery.
(Images: Seth Price, Non Speech, Fire & Smoke, installation view, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, January 7-February 19, 2011. Seth Price, Die Leguane, video 2010, sound 2000, video, sound (music composed by Seth Price), 2:29 minutes. Seth Price, Non Speech, 2010, video, sound (music composed by Seth Price), 3:33 minutes.)