Barry Anderson is known for his bright, colorful video works: bars and diagonals and bubbles, light-rich abstractions that act as moving collages. His art features regularly in group exhibitions around the country and is in a number of museum and private collections, and recently he has collaborated with bands such as the U.K.'s Written in Waters, making abstract videos for their music.
With his new The Janus Restraint: The Ascension, at Studios Inc., Anderson expands beyond what he has called "a video mindset." Yes, there's video here, as well as sound and still photography and sculpture. It's the beginning of a bigger project (including some online-only aspects, visible at thejanusrestraint.com), he told a group gathered for a gallery talk May 11. And part of the impetus for it is simple enough: His son, Finn, is growing up.
We see that for ourselves just inside the cavernous exhibition space, where a single-channel video plays on a movable wall. In "Finnean," a portrait of Anderson's 9-year-old son, the boy looks directly at the camera, at us, and we see him split prismatically into patterns, mostly horizontal diamonds moving downward. Sometimes layers from other scenes of him slide by, and the green of a lawn in the background suggests summer afternoons of play. There is a vision of him sleeping, onto which Anderson has painted a few glimpses that suggest the unknown thoughts behind an innocent gaze, the changes to come. At one point, the vivid green of a Halloween mask is spliced in — a Frankenstein's creature set upon the world to find an identity.
A narrative about the passage of time is universal, but Anderson spares us what could have been, under less skillful orchestration, so intensely personal as to be irrelevant. Janus isn't someone foisting family photographs on you or hijacking a conversation with rambling stories about his child's accomplishments.
For one, the sheer beauty of Anderson's crisp images is seductive. And we identify with the boy, imagine what he might be thinking (the direction effectively takes us to the idealized rather than to the actual — this version of Finn is a fiction), remember what it was like on the cusp of adolescence.
Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, usually represented with two faces, one looking to the past and the other anticipating the future. It's a symbol that Anderson uses to straddle, among other things, that cusp, that middle ground between youth and adulthood.
In this show's four "Totemic Sonar" single-channel videos, for example, circular screens are set into solid wooden box frames and arranged vertically on the wall, and we see arrow shapes and expanding circles pulse by quickly. Catching the images in the bits behind the more solid-colored shapes offers its own intrigue. Is this the Earth from orbit? the woods? The arrows split the space, and the circles corral it back again, endlessly.
Tinged by ambient music coming from "Fragments of Space [ST2]," which is projected hugely on another wall, are the chanting tones of a child reading ... something. That voice, in an effect that, at least in terms of sound, recalls Hugo Ball's lobster-suit dada performance, is reciting Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson's 13th-century Prose Edda Gylfaginning. The child's voice, played through 24 little round speakers piled together on the floor, is charming but also feels a little distant, perhaps owing to the language and the mythology outlined in the story. Sturluson composed his Gylfaginning to reconcile the Icelandic Christian society of the time with its earlier culture; its narrator talks about the journey from the mainland, about gods and kings, and he quotes the older sagas.