Janet Biggs at Claire Oliver Fine Art | Review by Jill Conner
Over the last several years it seemed as if the process of looking at art, combined with what people wanted to see in the object itself, was less about visuality and more about finding the perfect, creative concept that was able to capture the "next big thing." In other words, the process of searching was confused with looking while the art market hey-day lent the impression that contemporary art finally broke free from its Postmodernist past. Refreshingly, Janet Biggs' new 10-minute video titled, "Vanishing Point," at Claire Oliver Fine Art closes the door on the era of appropriation and focuses on the underpinnings of the observational process with a return to Albertian perspective.
Biggs' video begins with the start of a song by a member of the ARC Gospel Choir and quickly cuts to Leslie Porterfield on a motorcycle in the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, as she contemplates another run at maintaining her world record. Once Porterfield takes off, the camera remains stationary. Gradually the biker vanishes into the picture, as if vaporized by the heat, and the gospel choir carries on its song that demands a witness.
The end of the video is unforgivingly loud as the vantage point shifts to that of a small camera placed within the front of Porterfield's bike. At no time does the viewer vanish with the bike but instead transforms the spectator into the subject. The motor roars into the room as the video continues on, what seems like, an endless path forward. Although Biggs' work is set in the stripped-down, simply barren landscape of Utah, her work identifies the complex nature of looking since a subject can be seen, interpreted and experienced from different angles.
Vision, sight, landscape and subject are central to this piece. Looking, as such, is an act that is frequently taken for granted. Even today, crowds flow in and out of art exhibitions at a record pace, leaving many to wonder what exactly was inferred in the brief act of viewing. By conflating observation with spirituality, Biggs also attempts to use this video as a way of celebrating the revived career of Leslie Porterfield, who had suffered a devastating crash in 2007, only to return to her previous success in 2008. Biggs uses three large-format photographs to frame this remarkable event. Each one depicts different aspects of the salty terrain but is nothing like the experience of her video.