Last Saturday marked the closing program of Dallas Medianale, the experimental film festival that's been at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary since early January. The festival has featured seated screenings, video art installations and intermedia performances curated by an array of artists, art educators and curators involved with the Video Association of Dallas -- the organization responsible for Medianale -- including Michael A. Morris, Charles Dee Mitchell, Danielle Avram-Morgan and Carolyn Sortor.
Saturday's program, "Existential Virtuality," was Sortor's brainchild and it boasted a large assortment of video works by internationally known artists, presented in the MAC's black box theater. "I was extremely excited to have the chance to bring to Dallas a cutting-edge selection from around the world of some of the works that I personally find most brilliant and inspiring," Sortor says. An hour-long compilation screening, Death, Desire, + Commerce in 5-D, showed twice in the evening, sandwiching a single, 30-minute screening of Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, from artist collective My Barbarian.
The compilation screening reflected distinctly 21st-century concerns. It included Random Darknet Shopper, a video capture of a 2014 exhibition by Zurich/London-based artist-hackers !MedienGruppe Bitnik, for which the artists programmed a computer to make random, automated purchases from the Deep Web using a $100 weekly allowance. Sortor says that Swiss authorities have since seized the computer's purchases and prosecution is pending. Another piece by Addie Wagenknecht and Pablo Garcia, Webcam Venus, showed sexcam workers imitating famous poses from works of art, like the Mona Lisa.
Wagenknecht is a Warhol Foundation grantee, and many of the other artists presented were of similar prestige. Wantee, a film by Laura Prouvost, was awarded the illustrious Turner Prize in 2013; and works by Harm van den Dorpel, who has exhibited at New York's New Museum and MoMA PS. 1, were also shown. These pieces were surely hard to obtain for a small film festival in Dallas -- in its first year, no less.
As Sortor points out, despite the quantity of video art being produced today, opportunities to view it are not always abundant, no matter where you are. "There's an ongoing explosion in the quantity and quality of video and new media art being produced, and artists are exploiting these media in truly ingenious ways," Sortor says, "but opportunities to see the best of these works remain relatively rare." The quality of Dallas Medianale in its inaugural year is a testament to the savvy and skill of the people involved.
Although I missed the compilation screening, I was able to catch the film from My Barbarian, a collective founded in Los Angeles, which was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 2014. I'm fully willing to admit that this one went over my head. Perhaps I would have benefited from reading the program beforehand. I now know that Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse had something to do with the merging of psychoanalytic texts with impressions of famous women and mothers from Eleanor Roosevelt to Mary Cassatt. That was totally lost on me, but the film -- presented as a series of vignettes that included singing and dancing -- was still interesting to watch despite my cluelessness.
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The turn-out for "Existential Virtuality" was pretty good, considering the atrocious weather last weekend. I'd guess there were 30 people in attendance. "The response to the Medianale has been terrific," Sortor says. Speaking of the seated screenings in particular, she added, "I believe there will always be an important place in art for works that reward the kind of sustained, focused attention that's difficult to achieve outside a darkened room. They're demanding of viewers' time ... [but] I believe it's time well spent."
Dallas seems to agree. Weather no doubt held some back this time; other Medianale screenings I attended packed the smallish black box theater. Plans are in place for Dallas Medianale to occur every other year moving forward. "Everyone involved with the Medianale is very pleased by the response and we are committed to creating a new event for 2017," Charles Dee Mitchell says. "We're already scheduling a meeting to discuss what we might do next," echoes Sortor.
Leaving the MAC Saturday night, I revisited Call and Response, the video installation exhibit curated by Mitchell and Danielle Avram-Morgan. It's been up in the MAC galleries throughout the festival, but midway through a piece by Francis Alys was replaced with one by Micah Stansell, The Water and the Blood. That work occupies its own room, where each wall is covered with projections. The part I saw depicted children walking through a forest, juxtaposed with images of cattle yards. Two sets of headphones along the wall allow you to choose the audio that accompanies the visuals. It feels like stepping into an alternate reality. It's very beautiful and affecting.
Although special programming for Dallas Medianale came to an end Saturday, you still have a chance to check out Call and Response -- it will be up through Saturday, March 7. Stop through on your way to dinner this weekend. I enjoyed walking through it the second time as much as I did the first. Even if you saw it several weeks ago, it's worth swinging through again to catch Stansell's contribution. Here's to Dallas Medianale in 2017.