Visual Arts: YouTube Diffusion

Traveling to Iceland to study light. And Björk.

Light is always the medium, in color and shade, but here it's the end result. Gretchen Bennett returned from a three-week residency in Reykjavík, during the dark days of December, with drawings, sculpture, and video that are on display through this Saturday at Howard House."December in Reykjavík, there are five hours of light," she says. "Everything is twilit." In a piece called Nirvana (Skid Row, Ted Ed Fred, Pen Cap Chew, Bliss)—the band's name, and several alternate names they considered—pink light is bounced off a mirror-surfaced, flattened, geodesic dome on the floor, creating a sort of low-level disco-ball effect. "I visited the studio of Haraldur Jónsson [an Icelandic artist], and he had just had a Yule party," she says, recalling one inspiration for the work. "There was a bare bulb on his ceiling with a pink gel on it, and it cast a beautiful rectangle of that light on his kitchen ceiling." (Bennett credits Matthew Offenbacher, curator of "The Gift Shop" project at the Henry, with introducing her to working with gels.)Bennett employs a similar technique at Howard House, installing stage spots with pink gels, which replicates both concert lighting and the feel of Icelandic light. (As she mentions in her statement, it's also reminiscent of J.M.W. Turner's atmospheric paintings.) Bennett's work continues to explore the icon of Kurt Cobain, as she has for the past two years. Her portraits, of him (or what may be him) and others, are stopped moments of movement, fuzzy-edged and glowing.As in her previous series, seen at the gallery in spring 2008, these portraits draw on YouTube images—literally. Bennett projects YouTube images onto a wall and shades them in with colored pencil, creating another layer of abstraction. These newer pieces have a more tangible resonance. The faces are clearer; the drawings seem more fully realized.Sometimes the texture of the surface she was working on asserts itself into the portrait. In a rendering of rocker Antony Hegarty—who in her drawing resembles Cobain—horizontal scorings seem to work against the vertical markings. (The drawn image is sourced from a YouTube still of Hegarty singing Leonard Cohen's "If It Be Your Will," which is also the audio track to this show's one video piece.) Often the faces (including Björk's) seem to float on the picture plane. The margins are rough, uneven, and often not nearly square, exaggerating the sense of a face or a body floating in negative space.There is a strange push-pull at work here, for while the faces stare out intently, they are also disembodied, broken, and blurred by several steps of translation."They should be cinematic," Bennett says of her drawings.The exhibit also includes 10 slow-loading YouTube videos that she curated for a Halloween BrüTube screening at Kirkland Art Center, and three sculptures—one carved wooden block depicting four versions of Shepard Fairey's "OBEY Giant" icon, the mirror/light sculpture mentioned above, and a tableau of broken glass held together by beer labels.Still, says Bennett, "Everything is a portrait, is a mirror."

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