Vincent Grenier
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From Michael Sicinski, Green Cine Daily, NYFF 07' Views 3 . Following up on his first and second pieces on the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar of the New York Film Festival , Michael Sicinski focuses on five "modern masters at mid-career." Oct 25 2007  

Perhaps gentler at first glance but possibly harboring a wicked passive-aggressive streak, the recent video works by Vincent Grenier have consistently been highlights of the Views line-up, and this year was no exception. Grenier has been making witty, elegant experimental films and videos for over 30 years, and his approach has always been defined by its eclecticism. His earlier film works partake of the orthodoxies of experimental film history but refuse to be defined by it. For example, 1978's Interieur Interiors (To AK) is a high-modernist exploration of adjacent geometrical planes, an intimate domestic study, and a collection of wry perceptual miscues organized not unlike a series of blackout sketches. Works from the early 90s such as Out in the Garden and You display a sensitivity to portraiture that allows figure and landscape to merge and separate in a kind of mitosis / meiosis. And most recently Grenier's career has been characterized by a rigorous exploration of digital video and its unique properties. Rather than attempting to duplicate the style of his films by other means, as many film-turned-videomakers have done, he has embraced video's defining traits - relative flatness, a capacity for inner framing and image juxtaposition, and a more tightly controlled capability for superimposition - in order to produce video artworks distinguished by their subtlety and grace, to say nothing of their quirky humor. Where video has been an impediment to others, it has expanded Grenier's creative vocabulary.

The last four years of Views have included videos by Grenier. 2004's Tabula Rasa fragmented but deepened our apprehension of a particular space, a high school in the Bronx through staggered sound and internal superimpositions. 2005's North Southernly is a single view from a window slowly transformed, although discerning rack focus from digital manipulation is quite tricky, perhaps a sly acknowledgment of DV's relative indifference to older avant-garde traditions of fussy handicraft. 2006 brought us This, and This, a tape which can only be described as a comedy of the horizontal wipe. In it, numerous less-than-flattering views of the so-called natural world bump against one another, get in each other's way, and yet refuse to actually connect through genuine montage. Reminiscent of Scott Stark's video SLOW from 2001, Grenier's piece is less complicated, more straightforward, resulting not in ambiguous space but in a confounding metonymy of images, splashing us with a puddle then driving on. This year's Grenier video, Armoire, is one of his briefest (three minutes), and its humor is so deadpan I actually didn't immediately recognize it as such - a true "way homer." In it, Grenier has "trapped" a bird in a reflection on the water and essentially chases it around the screen with increasingly narrow frames-within-frames, pinning it down, making it sing for the artist's own supper. Its sense of eventual claustrophobia recalls the glass box sculptures of Joseph Cornell, tight spaces where imaginary living things went to gain immobility / immortality. But here, we're so used to equating the very image of a bird in a tree with absolute freedom that Grenier's comic aggression is a slow-burn, provoking a tense grimace of discomfort by minute three, and a chuckling nod of assent by the second viewing. Even those of us fiercely devoted to the field of experimental cinema know all too well that it can be rather humor-impaired. No surprise, then, that a stealth anarchist like Grenier is like a breath of fresh air.


This page was updated on 9/20/08