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May 21st, 2008 RICHARD SPEER | Visual Arts
 

The Aftermath of Experience

Multimedia virtuoso TJ Norris conjures 1980s Manhattan, even as he embalms it.

     
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A VIEW FROM TJ NORRIS’ INFINITUS

In his installation, INFINITUS, at New American Art Union, multimedia artist TJ Norris has pulled off an elegant, thought-provoking show in his hallmark aesthetic of clinical-yet-invigorating minimalism. Norris describes INFINITUS as a “multimedia video lounge,” and you enter it through gray felt curtains that block out the light. The gallery’s storefront windows have been blacked out as well, imparting a hushed, corridor-like feel to the exhibition space. The first thing you see is a light box that cryptically declaims, in wedding-invite calligraphy: “Reserve the right to remain silent.” To your right, five sloping gurneys are laid out in a row, gray and impersonal, a single roll cushion at the head of each, their one token concession to comfort. You recline upon these gurneys and watch two channels of video projected onto the ceiling: grainy images of old Lincolns and Subarus rushing in front of a chain-link fence; a disco ball rotating in a sleazy, wood-paneled room; a woozy shot of a run-down apartment hallway.... The images have a vintage urban feel, like derelict souvenirs of pre-Giuliani Manhattan, when gentrification had yet to impinge and it was still possible to get a decently priced blow job in Times Square. Along the floor at the end of the gallery extends a horizontal cutout of a skyline, eerily backlit, while to the right, the gallery’s bathroom glows red, courtesy of artist Rose McCormick’s complementary installation, Dovetail Deux. As the one flash of chromatic heat in an otherwise chromatically dead environment, the red glow is all the more effective for its singularity. Meantime, as an aural component, unseen speakers play French composer Christian Renou’s ambient soundtrack, Land of Confusion. The soundscape, commissioned for the exhibition, completes a mise-en-scène that manages both dispassion and seduction.

In the 1980s, when Norris was in his late teens and early 20s, he haunted art galleries and dance clubs along the Eastern seaboard, meeting Andy Warhol at an opening in Boston, rubbing elbows with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York, transfixed by scrawling Jenny Holzer text and towering banners touting Diana Ross concerts. As artists are wont to do, Norris compartmentalized and fetishized the habitat of his youth in ways that continue to inform his present. His INFINITUS demonstrates the infinite ways in which the zeitgeist of our formative years can enrich and ensnare us. It is a diorama of a time and place now lapsed, re-created as in a theme park in the distant future. With maturity and deconstructionist polish, Norris has romanticized a gritty metropolitan past while also draining it of every last drop of romanticism it ever did or did not possess. He conjures the aftermath of experience—which is to say, memory—even as he embalms its corpse.


SEE IT: New American Art Union, 922 SE Ankeny St., 231-8294. Closes June 22.
 
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