Let’s say you’ve just gotten back from a weekend in Seattle, taken for the sweetest of reasons (a wedding!), hurried back actually, because you’d waited until the last possible day to see the TJ Norris installation, Infinitus, at the New American Art Union. A long drive, after a couple of long days, which also included a visit to the Olympic Sculpture Park, and that was on your mind as you walked across I-84 from Northeast Portland to the gallery. Because that’s how we often arrive at our art experiences. After long drives. After long days. With other stuff, even other art, on our minds.
You take the Norris video installation lying down, facing upward at two screens suspended from the ceiling, which show different portions of a 71 minute video loop. Actually, those inclined benches are pretty comfortable and they have pillow-like substance at the top where your head goes. You enter the gallery, get your bearings and take a bench. I was alone most of the time on Sunday, the two screens flickering above me. At first they both had automobile imagery going, one of highway traffic shot from above and the other of traffic shot from the side through the diamonds of a chain link fence. So, my pulse still elevated from the walk and the lanes of I-84 on my mind, I immediately began to think of cars, mostly about how boring they were and that this as much as their destructive effects on cities and the environment was good enough reason to seriously limit their use. Seriously. TJ Norris’s installation has nothing to do with that, at least I don’t think so, but “boring” is a good thing to remember, boring as in “mundane.” The installation itself isn’t boring, of course. I found the experience that it offered just the opposite, once my pulse rate slowed and I stopped thinking about cars.
I situated myself on a bench between the two screens, the better to watch both. That was difficult at first, my attention diverted, eyes darting one way then the other. What did I see? I think the most lasting impression is “movement.” Images in motion. Some of them were abstract — tiny lights flickering and fluttering or shapes morphing across the screen. Bubbling emulsions. These passages could last quite a while. The cars, yes, and other “real” objects or places. Long corridors that the camera wanders down. A disco ball. A convex outdoor mirror, the kind they use to help you see around corners sometimes. Shadows of strange objects. Escalator stairs in motion. Buildings and steel “structures.” A close-up of a plant that, as the camera pulls back, is revealed to be behind a barbed wire fence. And speaking of barbed wire, razor wire. Quite a bit of razor wire. This list could go on, but just imagine these things moving along at a good clip though often in long takes, so you can “watch” the motion.