Sea Spume, Magic Hands and Miniature Worlds: Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher at Derek Eller, Michael Bell-Smith at Foxy Production, Louise Fishman at Cheim & Read

  • FOR THE TEXAN collaborative team of Jeff Shore and Jon Fisher, the camera obscura has been displaced as a metaphor by a surveillance-state Moebius strip. Everything is exposed for peering at, but there is no outside from which to peer in. Their new installation Trailer, currently biding its time in Derek Eller Gallery, consists of five ceiling-mounted projectors throwing five blank, digitally pixelated rectangles, each tinted a different color, onto or beside five groups of 17 wall-mounted plywood boxes, six power strips, and innumerable wires, caps, circuits and LED lights. The wires, whose elegant parallels and polite crossings bring to mind a schematic subway map, lead up the walls and across the ceiling to a secret control room in the back.

    The plywood boxes, constructed by Mr. Shore, largely obscure but do not completely conceal a series of small dioramas: an egg-shaped trailer, a drum set with sticks carved from toothpicks, a phone booth. Mounted on the wall a discreet distance from one such set, like a piece of cheese labeled “bait,” is a single square red button. The moment an unwary visitor presses it, he hears a banging drum: hidden computers, programmed by Mr. Fisher, start a 12-minute, black-and-white music video, fed live from tiny cameras inside the tiny sets and synched to prerecorded sound.

    Beginning with a camera aperture opening on a mountainscape (and including a microphone stand on an empty stage, an untenanted diner counter, crowd noises and a tuba playing itself) the video as video is engagingly cliché. Or rather, it would be, if you were ever allowed to forget that it isn’t a video: it’s merely one moving part of a complex installation whose total pressure rests squarely on the viewer. When the tuba plays, you can hear the clicking of its little keys coming from its wall-mounted set, but the polka comes only from the speakers.

    THE SUNSETS and squiggly lines of off-the-shelf new media inevitably leave an aftertaste of emptiness. But by processing and assembling such blips and blobs with impeccable narrative economy and cheerful, understated irony, Michael Bell-Smith, in four new single-channel videos at Foxy Production, forces the limits and absurdities of relentless cyberification to point to the larger and more resilient world that still contains them.

    In Waves Clock, a digitally-rendered analog clock, showing the actual time, that floats over a monotonously beautiful seascape, the cartoonish falsity of desktop icons points back to the essential falsity of all discrimination and representation; in De-Employed, a series of swipes, tears and tapping fingers move the viewer past white gallery walls, a chain-link fence, an enormous hamburger and the ubiquitous landscape of Law and Order, while a series of single-word subtitles reimagines the old roadside Burma Shave ads as a post-Blade Runner haiku.

    And the shadowy, disembodied hands in the brilliant video Magic Hands were designed to introduce new flavors of cheese curls on a conference-room wall. Mr. Bell-Smith uses them instead to introduce—to the sounds of clapping, swooshing, breaking glass, ringing bells and car horn—a glass of beer that erases itself; a broadly pixelated gray flame; a red, Mel Bochner-esque grid that shatters itself and later reappears as a Design Within Reach bookshelf; a cute sheet of paper with a curly cowlick corner; a rebus that spells out “MINE”; and a broken egg sliding over Ouroboros, the snake that bites its own tail.

    In reconstituting the world as an image in the mind, we inevitably anthropomorphize, or, worse, reduce it all to a screen on which to project infantile fantasies of abundance, but this is, in the end, more ridiculous than it is frightening. The funniest note in Magic Hands is the necktie that reverse dissolves into view, accompanied by a ding! and the legend “Free Lunch.”

    LOUISE FISHMAN’S 11 NEW oil paintings at Cheim and Read create a unified effect: they all show the same deep but narrow color palette, inspired by a recent residency in Venice, of ultramarines and oceanic grays, the same reliance on broad strokes of paint, and the same tense resistance to curve. But what they most have in common is that each achieves, necessarily in a different way from the canvas next to it, the delicate harmony of disjunction and discord. In Crossing the Rubicon, a central figure of red and blue lines that brings to mind not only Caesar’s bloody river, but also the Christian cross and the Chinese character for “peace,” is steadily dissolved by soft blue fluff, a crosshatching of choppy white scratches, a few sticky clumps of paint, and further strokes in all directions. Assunta, right beside it, is a circle to Rubicon’s cross: it begins with marks made at random, but as each mark made reduces the field of choice, the final goal of covering the whole canvas steadily converts that randomness to order. And Serenissima sheds fully formed figurative allusions, as Moby Dick casts off symbolic readings, without being altered or reduced. A grayish white geyser in the middle, a red sacred heart, yellow geraniums, roiling waves, sea spume, pigeon shit and an olive-green plastic palette knife all cast themselves against the viewer’s eyes before dissolving in the air.

    editorial@observer.com

  • Courtesy the artist and Foxy Production

  • Courtesy the artist and Foxy Production

  • Courtesy the artists and Derek Eller Gallery

  • Courtesy the artists and Derek Eller Gallery

  • Courtesy the artist and Cheim & Read

  • Courtesy the artist and Cheim & Read