Our lives are filled with surfaces. Whether we are surfing the web, scrolling through our Instagram feed, or scanning buzzwords written on billboards, we are constantly skipping along the surface at increasing speed. It’s a system that rewards superficiality and busyness, always looking forward to the next big thing, evaporating (and monetizing) the present into the data sphere.
With this new wave of contemporary information capital very much in mind, Pete Fleming’s installation at Interstitial in Georgetown, presents a welcome opportunity for us to pause, and sink below the surface to envision other possibilities. Fleming is a Seattle-based artist working primarily in video, photography and installation. For “Dispersal Patterns,” Fleming recorded and edited video of the water and sky in varying formats. The first video is displayed on a screen precariously held by two-by-fours in the format of the cinematic wide screen. Across this surface, footage of waters calmly ripple and flow. It’s a familiar and comfortable image, attractive to the eye but ultimately limited and flat.
Fleming contrasts this steady, digestible cinematic format with a more chaotic and unstable image projected on the back wall in 16:9. This is the ratio of contemporary digital experience (of corporations and YouTube), and according to Fleming it offers the opportunity to “encounter more affective depth.” The video disorients the viewer as they are presented with an upside-down perspective of footage taken underwater. Currents flow and bubbles rush past the screen in a chaotic manner. Occasionally a leaf floats past, providing the eye with something to grasp before it passes beyond the frame. The video is destabilizing, but quietly so, not exclaiming its difference, but presenting it with little comment besides two 8-inch monitors that hang eye-level, side-by-side before it. Words such as ‘Dissolution’ and ‘Continuity’ flash and burn away on these miniature televisions, describing the tensions and sense of dislocation the video presents. Here, one’s sense of reality is tilted to an unfamiliar angle and plunged beneath the surface.
The final video is presented on twin 8-inch monitors, stacked upon one another. The 4:3 aspect ratio is outdated, nostalgic, recalling the tiny televisions one might encounter in the home of a grandparent. Clouds pass along the screen, dispersing and shifting in color. The enormity of the sky is brought into an intimate scale.
The installation has no beginning or end, playing without sound in a loop. It is all part of deliberate quietness Fleming takes as he invites viewers to focus and unfocus. Water and sky become referents of the play between surface and depth, known and unknown, time and movement. “Dispersal Patterns” is one of the most rigorous and vital exhibitions I have recently encountered for its combination of subtle and thoughtful formal decisions and its complex, theoretical basis. It’s an installation that speaks directly to our present moment and the role technology plays in our lives—the proliferation of surfaces that do not always reflect the turbulence beneath and within.
“Dispersal Patterns” is on view through April 5 at Interstitial (6007 12th Ave South, third floor).