Beyond routine action

We make movements every day, many of them the mechanical, repetitive actions of habit which help objectify our sense of time. We start work at a certain time of day, take the bus or drive a car and eat at a set time: These are examples of repetitive, routine actions that we rarely think about but which define a large part of our existence. On a subconscious level, they are also the kinds of movements which may provide a sense of purpose in our lives, the feeling that there is some kind of preordained structure. It is both a liberating and constricting feeling: It frees one from taking responsibility for what happens in life yet simultaneously constricts choices. This strange balance between the solace of the familiar and the anxiety of being trapped in it without even realizing it comes through in the video works of Vicky Betsou, presented at her solo show «Elevators-Corridors,» currently on at the Milo artspace. The exhibition’s main work is a video installation made up of a five-part uninterrupted panel. Each panel depicts an elevator’s vertical movement as it moves up a building’s different floors. The mechanical movements of the elevators as they stop on certain floors and continue are not synchronized yet are carefully orchestrated to produce a rhythm that has an engaging, psychological effect. Filmed in real time, the images of these nondescript elevators as they move up and down, each to its own rhythm, impart a sense of randomness on what is an automated, precise movement. They also build up to a feeling of suspense and tension. The calming effect of the repetitive movement gradually alternates with a feeling of restlessness and insecurity as the viewer realizes that there is no beginning or end to the movement of the elevators, just a perennial, dulling action stripped of purpose and a sense of destination. A sense of enclosure enhances the anxiety. Betsou has filmed the empty elevators from the inside. The unkempt doors (the elevators are from public buildings) suggest the passage of time and our purposeless, abandoned action in it. Moreover, the large panel that virtually covers one of the gallery’s walls creates a life-size, almost painterly environment that envelops viewers and makes them feel they are inside the elevator. Although there is no trace of the human figure in these images, the sense of something corporeal is there. One has an uncanny feeling of being present and absent all at once: It’s like the feeling one has when dreaming – of observing one’s action while in it, of distance and involvement, of «being and nothingness.» Betsou builds an atmosphere of intimacy and at the same time insecurity, of both calm and agitation. A similar feeling imbues the exhibition’s second video. Instead of elevators, Betsou has here filmed a long corridor, presumably in a hospital. The two-screen video shows the movement in the original version and its reverse as the camera zooms in and out of the corridor. In the distance a man carrying a stretcher moves either toward the viewer or, in the reverse image, away from him, but in both cases remains far away from the viewer’s standpoint. Again, there is a sense of a perennial suspense, of an unculminated, repetitive action that is calming yet strangely haunting. As with the corridors, Betsou has chosen the nondescript image of a corridor in a public building. It could be a corridor in a school, hospital or public service building. The specifics do not matter. Nor does narrative. What does matter is that both elevators and corridors are places of transit – spaces where we move from one place to another. However, in neither of the two videos does the transition occur. A sense of movement is counteracted by stillness, the idea of freedom and possibilities that are open to us by constriction and a lack of will. Betsou gives the nondescript images of elevators a symbolic content and turns their automated, insignificant motion into something much more than function. She transforms them into a metaphor for our quest for finding a meaningful role in life. She also addresses the complicated notion of time, blurring the boundaries between objective and subjective time, the kind of time that is calculated through habitual actions and time as it unfolds in our imagination and inner thoughts. And she turns the documentation of a trite, automated action into an enveloping installation that comes closer to the visual, allusive qualities of painting than to the immediacy and dry effect of most videos. In almost every aspect, Vicky Betsou manages to reveal the subtleties and hidden qualities of images and movements that occur around us. Vicky Betsou’s solo exhibition at the Milo artspace (11 Amynta, Pangrati), 210.725.4897, through Friday.