Bring out your dead

A Yankee photographer moves south and brings the bodies with him

If you haven't seen the Wired For Living show at the MAC, get over there. It's just the kind of thing that the MAC should be doing but doesn't do often enough, a forward-thinking exhibit that epitomizes a great nonprofit art space. It runs in conjunction with the Dallas Video Festival, and it's the MAC's first year of trying out the parallel events. We can only hope it becomes a new tradition, because what a notable kickoff: amazing works by biggies such as Nam June Paik and Bruce Nauman and regional wonders like Nic Nicosia and Johnny Walker. Of the dozen or so pieces, there's really not a crapper in the show. As a peripheral event, it threatens to supersede the actual festival.

It's such a powerful and fresh cross-section of how far the video-art medium has come--a far cry from the oft-stale fare at the DVF proper (see last week's feature story, "Video binge"). Whereas "art" for narrative filmmakers who own Sony minicams usually involves some kind of self-indulgent, cliched drivel (oooh, here's my meditation on depression using an actress who looks sad), the visual artists displayed in the MAC are far more inventive. For example, in Tony Oursler's "Basement," he's projected three faces onto three head-sized ceramic eggs. They talk, they hum, they smile, and look around. Talking heads, stacked sideways on a table. It's amusing and fascinating and not a little scary. Brian Fridge goes with a more sedate, hypnotic approach: In a bizarre process he's developed using a camera and ice in his freezer, he's come up with a slow, organic swirl of white particles in vacuum-black space. On a big screen, it looks otherworldly. You could be looking at some hyper-secret NASA radar or a radioactive dust storm.

There are a few examples of disarming and disturbing animation, a particularly visceral conceptual piece involving a shrouded bathtub and images projected through its water, and a very funny observational piece about people's haircuts, among others. The apex, though, and enough reason alone to trek to the space, is Nam Jun Paik's "Elephant Gate." He's found the most unexpected and breathtaking (and ironic) use for the cheap and sleazy video medium. Within a gigantic altar form, its façade the ornate and carved grillwork of old European religious structures, the veteran artist has placed 43 color monitors playing extreme quick-edit images from bad Middle Eastern television and porn. Thing is, the colors are so vivid and the movement so mesmerizing, it's like light shining through gorgeous stained glass. Melted prayer candles mounted along the framing woodwork semi-obscure the cooing naked women; stately carved birds stand before bad soap opera dramas. Brilliant, and there's nothing like it anywhere. Certainly not at the festival itself.

Jeffrey Silverthorne is at Photographs Do Not Bend through April 24. 3115 Routh, Dallas. (214) 969-1852. Wired For Living is at the MAC through April 3. 3120 McKinney Avenue, Dallas. (214) 953-1212.

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