Having been captivated by 12k’s recent forays into the world of DVD, I am fairly certain that this overview of their most recent release, Colourfield Variations, is going to be both a pleasure and something of a revelation. Not least because it has been assembled from a cast of artists both great and good (and also some completely unknown to me), but also because it was overseen and curated by Richard Chartier, an artist admired and respected for his personal aesthetic the world over. Inspired by the colour field visual artists of the late 60’s,the movement was best exemplified by the likes of Clifford Still, Mark Rothko , Kenneth Noland and a small but highly influential group of others. This loose association of artists came under the banner of “colour field” painting..coined perhaps by a media hungry for novelty, or a new “ism”.. an extended interpretation of minimalism – a reduction of elements that contracted and condensed its surfaces to intense fields or bands of colour, devoid of any inherent subject matter, these surfaces became a carrier..elemental fields transmitting and radiating emotion from pure colour. Rothko once famously (and controversially) stated that any viewer who wept before one of his paintings, was experiencing the same emotions as when he painted it..they got the point. Such was the power invested in, and emanating from such surfaces, an exploration of the pure psychological energy of colour.
Acknowledging some of this movement’s roots in his home city of Washington, Chartier invited a selection of sound and multi-media artists to submit works based upon a re-intepretation of “colour field”, or “chromatic abstraction” for an installation and performance series at the Corcoran Gallery for Art in Washington. It is now documented in part, in this most recent 12k release. Assembling and recording any works by a group of artists is no easy feat, and this collection is epic in both its scale, and breadth of approach from all its participants. I will not detain you with in depth summaries of each and every piece, as the DVD is generally one of the most successful I’ve seen in terms of content and presentation, eclipsing the works of UK based ONEDOTZERO, who made their reputation on presenting just this type of experiment. I will pick up on what for me are the highs and lows of the collection, and reserve final judgement for you, the audience.
Colourfield Variations opens with a breath of anticipation from Steve Roden, friend and collaborator of the 12k imprint, whose “Dark Over Light Earth” takes its cues from dissolving colour swatches taken from paintings by Mark Rothko, and a soundtrack inspired by a piece from Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel”. Dark Over Light Earth makes graded transitions from one colour tone to another, but appears to lack the depth and resolution of a painting to truly carry this off, and in any way stimulate the emotional response that the original paintings would. The Tina Frank/General Magic piece, “Chronomops” is the definitive high point of the collection, alongside Evelina Dominitch and Dmitry Gelfand’s “Ten Thousand Peacock Feathers in Foaming Acid”. The former using a scintillating explosion of dancing colour bands with a backdrop of abstracted digital soundscaping provided by General Magic. Tina Frank’s pedigree as a designer is notable, and this video excursion is truly remarkable, if a little short..Dominitch and Gelfand , having been the first to release on 12k DVD have submitted a truly awe-inspiring version of moving colour field, using the shadows cast by a laser light shining through soap bubbles..from this disarmingly simple premise, the duo have come up with a piece that was jaw-dropping to encounter, as the eerie green light cast by the laser, washes through the loops and whorls of soap bubbles, that could almost resemble the storm-tossed surface of some indescribably hostile planet, yet maintains a subtle elegance and gentility, interfaced with a lower case tonal soundtrack that acts as the perfect backdrop. Despite the kudos and significance of most of these artists, it is difficult to separate wheat from chaff..Sawako submits a beautiful rendering of sketch-like filaments from Helen Frankenthaler’s “Flirt”, and Ryoichi Kurokawa’s “Scorch”, is the perfect meeting of sound and image, the colours here perhaps more muted, and a little busier than most of the entries..but highly successful nevertheless. Frank Bretschneider does what he and the raster noton stable do best, by juxtaposing his twitchy, effervescent glitch-techno loops, with a series of banded colours moving from top to bottom of the screen. This is a moving image fest of grand proportions, that could equally be treated as wallpaper, or in the case of Tina Frank, and Dominitch and Gelfand, be encountered as ground-breaking multmedia art. Colour Field imagery has come of age. This has my highest possible recommendation. BGN