There’s a new Donut Shop on campus

Donut Shop 5
New Work by Cris Moss
Autzen Gallery
Neuberger Hall second floor
Through Jan. 31

The Donut Shop, an ongoing project featuring local artists showing at rotating galleries, has finally made a stop at Portland State. Donut Shop 5, comprised of new works by Cris Moss, is now on view at the Autzen Gallery on the second floor of Neuberger Hall. Moss’ video installation presents the viewer with a new look for the Autzen. The walls of the gallery are often packed with art, but in this case the viewer is first struck by the sparseness of the exhibit.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is confronted by a television on the west wall. On the screen plays a video loop of a red sport-utility vehicle driving in counterclockwise circles around what appears to be a bush in a mountain setting. The camera angle changes at regular intervals – first the vehicle is at eye level, then it is below the viewpoint of the camera, etc.

At first appearance, the work appears to be not unlike a simple television commercial, but as the vehicle continues in its circumference the viewer becomes entranced by the social commentary. The pointlessness of the driver’s journey – the wasted gas, the lack of destination – speaks to the relative uselessness of consumer desire. We buy things that take us nowhere.

On the floor to the right of this work is a VCR. Its AV cables stretch across the floor to a mini television, the guts of which are stretch another three-to-four feet to a tiny three-by-five inch screen. A couple of feet opposite of this is another screen, likewise disembodied from its television, which is in turn also connected to a VCR.

On each screen a rotating cast of both male and female boxers shadowbox with the camera. The boxers face each other, and it is their grunts and groans that make up the only audio of the whole exhibit.

The mirror image draws the viewer, and two boxers stuck on video facing each other is a perfect artistic interpretation of the sport. It is a sport most keenly remembered in photographs and grainy video stills on sports channels late at night, The video is in black and white, like prizefighters of old, and like the shady reputation boxing has – is it a sport or simply violence? Is it legit or is the fix on? Further, The electrical guts and wires stretching across the floor mirror the boxers’ tendons and muscles.

Unfortunately, the experience is diminished by the floor-level presentation. If the work were somehow raised, so the viewer could stand between the two fighters, rather than squatting to see their miniature images, the work would be exponentially more effective.

The east end of the gallery is home to two television screens piled atop one another. On the upper screen is the naked torso of a man, while on the lower screen are his legs. He sits in a chair, and his genitalia is out of camera view. He sits open-legged, touching his head, adjusting his feet on the floor, letting his hands drop – all the while looking directly at the viewer. What is unsettling – and powerful – about the piece is the fact that the video is out of focus, yet the man’s eyes are very obviously on the viewer.

On the south wall of the gallery, a TV plays a loop of the SUV again, but this time the view is from the drivers’ seat. The same mountain scenery rolls by as the tape loops over and over.

What the viewer gets from all of this is that one can cover themselves with the swaddling of society’s riches, yet remain beholden to the violence it presents. One can be naked all alone, but must eventually confront the violence and consumption that permeates this American culture – the naked man will dress and emerge.

Moss is an artist with a clear vision. If the message is a little trite, it works aesthetically, so no matter. Politics or no, Donut Shop 5 is a success. Kudos to the art department for breathing some new life into the Autzen gallery.