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Derek Fansler, "Set Piece", Single-channel video transferred to DVD, Monitor, installation


SOUND VIDEO IMAGES OBJECTS: Donald Young Gallery • Chicago, Illinois

by Ronald DeLegge

“Sound Video Images Objects” was an exhibition by 11 artists of works using video, sound, computer imaging, photography and painting.  Lou Mallozzi showcased “Held”, a sound installation for the gallery’s front entrance and Jan Estep exhibited “Hunter Dress”, a new project combining aspects from her “Survival Wear” series and photographic images. Also presented were video-based installations by Ken Fandell and Lucas Ajemian, a new single-channel collaborative work by Jennifer Reeder and Jon Leone, and a complex installation by Derek Fansler which combined a stage set and an action-based video. Siebren Versteeg devised a “tendency-driven” computer program which operates itself, and paintings by Gaylen Gerber, Michelle Grabner, and Rebecca Morris lined the walls. After years of showing art in Seattle, it’s nice to see the Donald Young Gallery back in Chicago showing art for the thinking person’s collector.


In the primary gallery,  a video installation piece by Derek Fansler set the stage for this multi-discipline group show. It’s a charismatic piece, which combines Starsky & Hutch-like television action scenes with a couch potato artist and three likenesses of himself. Basically, the video story unfolds in  Fansler’s makeshift apartment. A barrage of masked men forcefully enter the apartment, one at a time, as Fansler peacefully sits watching television. The first assailant points his gun directly at the artist, but before he can shoot, the video takes an unexpected turn. In enters a second assailant, wearing the identical mask as the first. Then, just like the movies, the two masked bandits get into the all-too-common wrestle-and-fall-to-the-ground brawl. Yes, they break lots of glass, and, yes, they nearly destroy all the furniture in the apartment during the fight. However, before they are done killing each other, another unexpected twist happens. A third masked man (wearing the same mask as the previous two) breaks in unannounced and fatally shoots one of the two brawling masked men, while the other one escapes through an open window. The shooter then attempts to save the gun shot victim, but fails to revive him. All along, Fansler quietly sits in his La Z Boy chair in stupefied astonishment at the events unfolding in front of his own eyes. The last video cut pans back to the dying gunshot victim, curiously the exact same man as the the others. In fact, each mask is a specially crafted representation of Fansler’s face. Remembering this, viewers are able to graphically witness the inner conflict of the multi-personality types that reside within Fansler, and within each of us. We are helped to appreciate that many do not have the correct balance or combination of “desirable” personality characteristics. We see that in extreme cases, the incorrect formulas of peace and war, love and hate, or whatever, can lead to some serious problems. Realizing this in his own self, Fansler tries to kill the “bad” or “undesirable” part of himself. However, not knowing which part of his layered personality is the “bad” or “evil” part, we later realize that he probably killed the “good” part of himself. 


Although his point is not directly correlated to human disease, Fansler’s exercise in many ways reminded me of chemotherapy treatment. During that process, the patient is exposed to radiation, with the purpose of extracting or killing the cancer. While some of the bad cancer cells are obviously cut-off, the administrator can’t help but kill or deplete some of the healthy producing cells. Fansler, as it were, performs a crude form of chemotherapy, or self-surgery, on himself. At the surface level, his self-murdering attempts appear violent, dumb, and mildly humorous. However, the underpinning ideas are multi-faceted and complex. Themes of self-destruction, self-discovery, and definitions of success vs failure are all heavily examined. To my liking, he doesn’t force us into any one camp or opinion, but rather allows us to choose the direction of what his exercise could imply in our own case.  

Once again, the problems Fansler addresses are more personality-driven, so my comparison to physical problems/treatments are merely illustrative. Ultimately, his point is not about successful self-treatment, but rather a highlight of the fact that humans are multi-dimensional entities, and finding the correct solution to defects from within is a difficult, yet probably worthwhile proposition. In the end, his project is entertaining and provocative.


Siebren Versteeg’s tendency-driven piece is a wall projection in a darkened room of a mountain and forest nature scene which runs on software. At periodical intervals, viewers see what appear to be smoke signals emitting from the forest. We don’t know if it’s Indians in the woods communicating to each other, or if it’s an early stage of a California forest fire; the artist doesn’t say. But the smoke seems to imply ominous overtones of trouble. About one in 50 lucky people are able to witness a flock of birds that drift out of the sky over the landscape. I guess if you watched the animation long enough, you were able to see them. Anyway, Versteeg uses a text-based scripting language that makes it’s own decisions. So all of the low suspense activity is basically happening by chance, vs direct intervention by the artist. While Siebren’s piece doesn’t have a lot in the way of “action,” it’s a well-executed piece and a good compliment to a delightfully presented group show.


Ronald DeLegge

Skokie, Illinois



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