Vitamin A: David Haxton’s “Painting Room Lights”
In which one of our art critics highlights a favorite work on view in a local gallery.
A couple months ago, when the Smithsonian American Art Museum unveiled its video game show, a little gallery next to the exhibit was closed for installation. The latest installation of "Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image" was taking shape with a new set of works on display, with one exception. Sticking around is Peter Campus' "Three Transitions," which incorporates chroma keys to overlap live and recorded video. It is through Campus' work that the audience might gain a better understanding of another work in the gallery that also benefits from the layering possible with chroma keys.
David Haxton's "Painting Room Lights" is a nine-minute, 16 mm film, transferred to video and projected on the wall of the gallery. To get it requires watching all nine minutes, because even though the wall text says it is "part of a series [of films] exploring the construction of perspective," the concept won't come across with a passing glance.
An arm draws out a quick line sketch of a pyramid on the horizon, and a box in two-point perspective. The device of linear perspective creates the illusion of deep space. The line drawing is superimposed with film of a man appearing to paint poles. The nature of film also creates the illusion of deep space, but with both of these illusions overlapping, the film and the linear-perspective drawing flatten.
The constant interplay—creating the illusion of space, and flattening it—is a captivating way of challenging perception, as well as a coy way of shattering the illusory windows of cinema and Renaissance draftsmanship. It's not nearly as fast-paced as Sonic the Hedgehog in the next gallery. That's a good thing.