Sabine Gruffat’s video art and Vanesa Zendejas’ drawings/collages couldn’t be less similar, and experiencing the two together at Roots & Culture is less thought-provoking than incoherent. Gruffat’s work is much stronger and more provocative, suggesting an obsession with media theory in the Marshall McLuhan tradition of media as extensions of ourselves. Gruffat plays with the concept of electronic language and signaling through an interactive video game across several television screens, complete with joystick, that has the interactivity of a video game—when you press various buttons the lines and patterns on the TVs, like analog signals or hospital monitoring machines, change configuration and the pitch of an electronic drone changes—without any of the content. Her “Black Oval White” presents a chaotic montage of video interference, integrating live-rendered computer animation, from which the viewer discovers and creates patterns and shapes.
The overall experience of Gruffat’s work is one of violation by media, and yet a compulsive need for the viewer to create meaning from obvious empty signaling; the pieces call attention to the interpretive work our senses constantly iterate even in the face of obvious meaninglessness. The closest thing to a corresponding obsession exhibited by Zendejas’ collages, which incorporate ink and paint but mostly consist of cut-up bits of wallpaper, seems to be about pattern and the creation of space in two dimensions. Her strongest, more exuberant collages resemble cubist paintings, and some that are sparser do invoke a kind of mysticism in blank space around them, with repeated shapes that create illusions of light and shadow. More often, though, Zendejas’ work feels unfinished and somehow childish, and her concern with texture doesn’t feel at all consequential or precise—a lack of definition and focus that extends to the show as a whole. (Monica Westin)
Through June 6 at Roots & Culture, 1034 N. Milwaukee.