Richard Carlyon's video installation at 1708 plays with the concept of language. 

Linguistic Mayhem

Video installations are making a prominent showing in Richmond's galleries and museum spaces this year. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will be featuring three internationally known video artists through August, and the Hand Workshop will exhibit the video work of Y. David Chung. Coinciding with these events is local artist-hero Richard Carlyon's current video installation "here. Say" at 1708 Gallery.

A video installation, unlike a single film, attempts to create an environment of sound, space, still imagery and moving pictures. The artist must choreograph many mediums to produce an overall effect that will not only transform a given space, but also the viewer. Viewer participation, therefore, is crucial; he or she must mediate the various stimuli to produce a coherent comprehension of its often-disparate parts.

Carlyon, a professor emeritus of art at VCU, has created a cacophony of visual and auditory effects. Upon entering the gallery, one is confronted with a din of scrapes, stepping, speaking and music produced on the 17 simultaneous videos. Fifteen TV sets are placed on white wooden cabinets at an angle in the long gallery space. The first five present a stone rolling and bare feet moving on a wooden floor. The videos seem the same but are played at different intervals. The next five televisions feature the torso and legs of a man seated on a chair that he scrapes across the floor. The last five videos, facing the opposite direction, show the artist speaking from various angles and viewpoints — upside down, close up, in profile. Individually, his oratory would be comprehensible, but played together at the same volume, it becomes a nonsensical, yet sonorous drone.

At each end of the gallery are two large screens. One shows Carlyon walking up a flight of stairs; the other features a dance sequence of Bing Cosby and a female partner from an old black-and-white movie. This particular screen seemingly does not mesh with the others; it seems out of place. Yet, reassuringly, it contributes a happy memory, a nostalgic pause in the overwhelming sea of illogical noise and imagery.

On the walls around the TVs, six large paintings on wooden panels are hung; they are layered with polymer emulsion, graphite and watercolor. All contain black, gray or silver geometric sections and carefully encoded letters. While some words can be made out, others remain hermetically removed from understanding. Nineteen drawings are composed of sketchy lines, traces, doodles and letters in sectioned boxes.

In the paintings, drawings and videos, Carlyon seems to play with the concept of language and semantics, both verbally and visually. The arbitrariness of words and the meanings we attach to them, though consecrated by society, are still, nonetheless, arbitrary. By mixing up letters, resectioning sentences and constructing mundane sounds, the artist creates linguistic mayhem. Yet, emerging from this havoc is an odd sense of soothingly perspicuous abstraction. When we watch TV or look at a painting or read a book or listen to someone speak, we expect to comprehend, to coordinate what we hear and see into an ordered, lucid conclusion. Carlyon challenges us to process our senses in a different way. This may all be "hearsay," but perhaps that is precisely what the artist had in mind.

"here. Say," works by Richard Carlyon, are on display at 1708 Gallery, 319 W. Broad St., through Feb. 23.


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