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Medium and media challenged in Lawrenceville

| Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lizzy De Vita is no ordinary printmaker. Although she was trained in traditional printmaking techniques at Barnard College of Columbia University in Manhattan, De Vita's work tends toward any number of media, including installation, digital video, digital printmaking, animation, sculpture and drawing, and most recently, performance.

Currently, half a dozen works by De Vita make up the exhibit "Shift" on display at Borelli-Edwards Galleries in Lawrenceville. And as visitors will see, even the video installations are, according to De Vita, prints.

"I consider the videos prints, too, because I could make you 100 copies of each DVD right now. They're prints," she insists. "There is no original, technically."

For De Vita, 24, process is crucial to the creation of her pieces, and the derivation and distillation of an image often involves elaborate, imaginative and meandering methods, which verge on performance. "A lot of the work involves eight different stages of processing," she says. "It's really time intensive. But the ultimate result is to make it look effortless."

By processing and re-processing familiar images through various technologies, De Vita not only alters an image, but creates a new and sometimes-disorienting experience of that image.

For example, in "Untitled (Candy Candy, Candy Candy, Candy Candy, Candy Candy)," the multiple grainy video stills that make up the piece are of a 1960s rock band that De Vita printed from a digital still of a digitized and compressed video transfer of a VHS tape of a film of a television show. Using this found footage, the artist selected still images from the video, which "spoke" with one another as a grouping. The result is a jarring display of overly pixilated prints that seemingly come alive with an unspeakable energy.

True to her word, De Vita's video works are like prints in that, taken at face value, they do not point to the creative process employed to achieve the results we see.

In this way, the viewer's experience of her work might begin in the same place as any other consumer act: with an assumption that it might be received quickly and easily. Yet at some point this certainty may be lost when viewers engage with the piece, or as it progresses over time.

For example, in "Doors," a three-channel video installation comprised of original video footage shot by the artist using a simple point-and shoot camera, we see a painter in the Louvre fastidiously copying a work by a Renaissance master. But we are removed from him directly by a glass door that is continuously opened and closed by museum visitors.

Using different zoom levels, and shooting at different points in time, each of the three views has a custom audio accompaniment refined from the ambient noise in the space during the filming. Thus, each projection contains all three perspectives, but each is slightly altered in length. As the videos play over time, different image combinations appear, and slightly bleed into each other.

In this way, the perpetually looped projections of slightly different durations create an ever-changing experiential, rather than narrative, trajectory for the viewer.

Likewise, in the digital video installation "Untitled (House)" themes of invasion and privacy intermesh with a rigid verticality, which brings to mind the aesthetics of abstract minimalism. In the piece, original footage shot by the artist using a simple, point-and-shoot camera is projected on an organza curtain. Sound is a minimal presence, but was taken from the ambient sound during the actual recording. Here, the notion of "thresholds" is examined in both literal and conceptual terms, making what you see more palpable as you begin to realize it as an evolutionary experience.

Undoubtedly, the most layered piece in the show is the nine-channel digital video installation "I don't re//member (or I've heard that story a thousand times)."

This piece is a real time portrait of the artist listening and watching herself tell the same story nine times in a row. De Vita first filmed herself telling a story that she had never told anyone. Then, in private, she set up a camera in front of a television set, and recorded her reactions to the video's staged, repetitive "storytelling" each time she heard it.

Each video seen here has a unique audio track and is approximately one hour and 4 minutes in length, which was the length of the full story. The subject, contents and narrative arch of the story remain hidden from the viewer, as only small spurts can be heard.

"I approached this piece like an experiment," De Vita says. "I was interested in the idea of something intangible being a sort of precious, finite medium. Something that could wear down or lose its power over time. I thought that stories, and the experience of a story being told could have the potential to change through time and repetition. That's why it was important to have a story that I'd never told anyone before."

Yet, De Vita contends, that like an experiment, and like most good things found in art, what one initially predicts as the outcome is often very different from the final product. "My experience during this nine-hour private performance was not at all what I'd expected," she says. "For one, the story itself seemed to change in my mind each time I heard it. I'd focus in on different parts each time. For instance, initially I'd find some aspects funny, and then later I wouldn't even notice. My attention would wane, and then a word or phrase would cue me back in and it would feel as though I'd only heard that particular segment for the first time.

"Even though I was completely alone, my own self-awareness kind of sauntered in and out, but, ultimately, it was inescapable. Ultimately, in this particular format and timespan, I couldn't trick myself out of knowing that I was being filmed, that what I filmed would eventually be watched."

Contemporary American culture both encourages and facilitates a hasty consumption of products, images and ideas. In taking the time to examine a visually or technically confounding image more closely, viewers of De Vita's work might become increasingly aware of the way they are consuming images more generally.

That's what makes this exhibit so compelling. That is, with this heightened self-awareness, the process of consumption might also come under scrutiny, or be considered in a new light.

Additional Information:

'Lizzy De Vita: Shift'

When: Through April 23. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays

Where: Borelli-Edwards Galleries, 3583 Butler St., Lawrenceville

Admission: Free

Details: 412-687-2606 or www.borelli-edwardsfineart.com

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