When I planned to check out Amy Hicks' Suspended Series of videos, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. The artist and I have a school chum in common who told me about the project last year. Imagining Hicks' four short films as 16mm footage shot while driving across Bay Area bridges brought to my mind's eye a pretty clear picture of a grainy view from a car moving across the monumental spans that connect our counties. "It'll be just like those virtual reality rides, right?" I thought to myself. Wrong.
Had I not known what Hicks' footage was derived from, I would have guessed the first film 1 was a microscopic view of mitochondria floating around a blue Petrie dish, or maybe a stowaway fly's perspective from a speeding car's windshield. The images are mirrored, making it difficult to discern what you are seeing. Every once in a while, a glimpse of the road is offered, but 1 mostly made me feel like I was watching lampposts float about in the atmosphere through a kaleidoscope. Because of the mirroring, the images passing you by seem to fold in on themselves. Hicks' driving footage is more like a Stan Brakhage painted film -- not so easy on the retina, but fascinating and begging to be figured out. People observing the films would occasionally emit an "Ohhh!" when, for a split second, they saw a detail of a car or landscape that they recognized. It seemed the audience was searching for the satisfaction of attaching meaning to what they were seeing.
2's images are bathed in white and the backs of cars are visible (mostly SUVs -- I figured we were headed to Marin). Eerie music sounding like a mix between screeching brakes and a very slow samba is heard while footage shot out the back window of the car and played in reverse gives the appearance of an automobile army preparing for attack.
3 was my favorite because it's so gritty and unrecognizable with its stripes of muted colors -- like watching an animated Rothko painting. My mind raced, "Am I looking at a road? The wall of a tunnel?" I had no idea. I felt as though life was passing me by, and I was watching it through a dirty lens, or maybe a filter of stucco siding. Strategically placed tail light flashes and the sound of a car horn brought me back to reality, but without those subtle hints, one could get lost in what appears to be a dream sequence -- only this dream happens to occur when you're asleep at the wheel. It wasn't until the end of 3 that I realized the blue stripes streaming across the screen were a mirror image of a familiar skyline.
4 was the darkest of the films and featured the most recognizable bridge in the series. Hicks employs a delicate use of light as the bridge's metalwork fades in and out. The screechy audio returns -- layered with the beat of a locomotive -- enhancing the ominous mood of the final piece.
There's one thing I was right about when anticipating this series -- it should be watched on an empty stomach -- it will make you feel like you just got off of a roller coaster, though it's a thought-provoking ride. If you're the type who prefers in-home viewing, all four films are available in a fabric-covered boxed set complete with an archival print of a well-chosen film still. So, Velcro that FasTrak to your windshield, plan on a late dinner, and head downtown to check out a local girl's gallery debut of video trickery.
Amy Hicks: Suspended Series is at the Catharine Clark Gallery through July 29, 2006.