Kent Tate: Movies for a Pulsing Earth
March 3 to April 29, 2012
Art Gallery of Swift Current
By Laureen Marchand
You enter a large white room where nine, wide-format flat, screen video monitors are hung in groups of three on three of the walls. In one corner and positioned to view all of the monitors, though its eyes appear sightless, is an internally-illuminated, whitish resin, bust of an androgynous human viewer, mounted on a four-foot pedestal. Playing on the monitors are images of spectacular landscapes, animals interacting with their environment, and humans casually going about their ordinary lives. On the fourth wall are artist's statements about the groups of images and brief descriptions. Filling the room as part of the multi-sensory experience are re-mixed NASA satellite sound recordings of the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetosphere.
Though the effect of being encircled by movies might suggest a kind of surround-video installation, the monitors' dark frames and demanding spacing ensure a more active experience. You start with one monitor, move to another, try to take in three at once, turn back to earlier scenes. You move across the room, read about what you're seeing. You can view one monitor or one set at a time, but you can't retain all the descriptions, or read and watch at the same time, so you walk back to a monitor and back again to the words. The androgynous viewer watches – and doesn’t – with you.
Volcanoes erupt and lava flows on the islands of Hawaii. A male bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park observes the viewer then rolls in the Earth's dust. An ever-vigilant prairie dog somehow doesn't sense our presence. Bees enact insect ecstasy. Cars drive in California, on Vancouver Island, near Banff; they, appear, disappear, come to rest half-buried in the Earth. People travel, observe, act and interact. Men work. Machines work. A house near Dollard, Saskatchewan burns to the ground. A lake swells with rain. Giant clouds roll, casting huge shadows over some of the most vast and primitive landscapes in North America. One camera anchors a remote vista in Saskatchewan's Ravenscrag Formation, as if you were there all day. The alternate viewer watches – and doesn't – with you.
Tate, born in Rivers, Manitoba, and living and working in southwestern Saskatchewan, is a painter and sculptor turned film-maker who has, until this exhibition, shown his work at screenings and festivals, one movie at a time. Perhaps it is the knowledge he has absorbed from earlier interests that allow his oddly static images to shape our perception of a kind of timelessness. And it is this feeling of timelessness within the individual videos and in the overall exhibition that seems to suggest Tate stepping around or beyond the values of many of his colleagues in Canadian video art practice. There is no narrative here, unlike the suggestion of story we see in the videos of others - David Hoffos (Lethbridge), Sara Diamond (formerly Banff, now Toronto), Paul Wong (Vancouver), or Shawna Dempsey and Lori Millan (Winnipeg). Tate draws on the original meaning of "moving pictures" while pulling his viewer into an experience-in-the-round greater than the sum of its parts.
As you observe, move about, and absorb this exhibition, relationships amplify and meaning takes shape. Though it sounds trite to say, you feel clearer about your connection to the Earth. Kent Tate's patient and gorgeous photography and demanding sequential editing, his use of a subtle yet noticeable presence of sound, and his creation of the androgynous watcher, an alternate viewer through whom we can identify our own distancing, combined with curator Kim Houghtaling's insistence on our physical involvement with the work, allow a rare understanding of what it really means to engage with the "pulsing" planet we live on.