There are three very distinct moods this exhibition cycle at Bruno David Gallery: Shawn Burkard’s eerie, cynical, in-your-face photograph, Ye Old Saint Nick greets visitors in the Front Room; Damon Freed’s brightly positive and pensive paintings offer a graphically reflective space in the Main Gallery; relief from both brought by the group show, Works on Paper I in the project rooms; and finally, Dickson Beall’s short film, Light Diet, distinctly contemporary, and both confrontational and comforting in its brief look at the aggressive visual culture of food and lifestyle through light, color, and time.
Dickson Beall’s Light Diet, a one channel, 5 minute looping video is tucked back in the small space of the New Media Room. Only a few people are able to view it at a time, but this kind of private experience with the short film more than assuredly fits with the content. The film begins with a close-up of a light bulb, and quickly cuts to various images, including brownish-reddish human and animal scenes from the pre-historic Altamira cave paintings while a technical classroom lecture plays in the background. Then we see a still-life Cezanne painting, bright and colorful with various fruits, soon overtaken by a city fruit market, people moving in and around it. This is a fast-paced, keep your eyes peeled kind of temp0 – the second you recognize an image as a painting, or more specifically, a Caravaggio, the image changes into someone say, walking down the street – something very contemporary and present.
Soon, a man’s face appears on the screen, enthusiastically speaking about eating fewer calories, and insistently uses the word ‘quality’ – as in, the things we need to do to have a better quality of life. While he speaks, paintings of people eating, a French bakery display window, and a Warhol Campbell soup painting flash behind and over him. Another man then begins speaking about calorie restriction as a pseudo fountain of youth. He explains his method of less processed food replaced by more fresh produce, and while he does so ultrasound images come to the forefront, followed by stark black woks and bright white eggs, appealing to themes of growth and change. Eventually, the man’s voice fades out and he’s replaced by images of cafeterias and scenes of overindulgence, which then cut to all-over blue, green, or yellow shots of joggers and runners. The film ends with a visual tie to the beginning – light bulbs, this time, two rows of them, in multiple colors. This last shot ties in with Beall’s painting on the wall outside of the film, Transitions, a long, thin canvas of six panels of block colors, including light blue, yellow, and pastel pink, inspired by Reflections of the Buddha at the Pulitzer Foundation of the Arts (AAN blogged about it here) directly across the street from Bruno David Gallery.
Beall really gets at this idea of continual stability and continual change: humans have always been concerned with food, from the Altamira Cave paintings all the way to what will be on our own tables tonight. Because it is a necessity to life, it keeps showing up in visual culture over and over again – from Carracci to Cezanne to Warhol. Recently, it’s become for many a fiercely advocated source of identity, a way to express personal values and morals through the food consumed. What starts the film, an image of single light bulb, representative of this idea of FOOD, resolves the film as multiple, colored light bulbs, what could be, metaphorically, how this single idea of FOOD has expanded into so many other things: IDENTITY, DIET, CONSUMPTION, CHOICE, YOUTH. Yet, it has developed into this confusing arena of books, lectures, carbs or no carbs because of this strong connections of ourselves to this basic thing, called food, which we must eat. Many of the kinds of food advocated for now – local, organic, produce – was actually how it all started in the first place. This sense of humans operating cyclically in time and space, transitioning from one thing to the next – but always with the same basic needs – is rich for even more exploration, and is made visually compelling by Beall through the complementary film and painting.
Damon Freed’s “Life Saver” (Main Gallery), Shawn Burkard’s “Ye Ol Saint Nick” (Front Room), the group exhibition “Work On Paper I” (Project Room), and Dickson Beall: “Light Diet” (New Media Room) all continue at Bruno David Gallery through 20 January 2012. Bruno David is open Wednesday-Saturday, 10-5 and is located at 3721 Washington Blvd, St. Louis, MO.