Gary Emrich’s “Dibs” is a monumental work by one of Colorado’s most prolific and respected artists, the culmination of eight years of hard work that concludes his three-part video series known as ” Apollo trilogy â.
The 16-minute video, currently showing at the Robischon Gallery, is a non-linear collage of dynamic images and sounds spanning three screens. It is a dreamy, urgent and, ultimately, gloomy vision of the American spirit as it exists today.
Like the previous two videos in the series, Emrich looks to the 1969 NASA-orchestrated moon landing to show us all we can be, and the things we miss. Through this filter, the Apollo 11 mission was the ultimate demonstration of American daring, cooperation and exception.
But it was also the beginning of the end, the final chapter of our manifest destiny – before we faced the indecency of colonialism, and before we duck into factions and start nibbling at the kind of sinister conspiracy theories that have recently become a poisonous feast.
The moon landing generated one of the first great conspiracy theories of our time. People claimed it was a hoax because the flag planted by visiting astronauts appeared to be floating in a windless landscape. How could that be? The truth, of course, is that it was built to behave that way, a prop for the massive TV show that the landmark event has become.
This act is central to Emrich’s work – and the cause of his title – as the astronauts erected their flag, symbolically claiming the land for the United States. He projects it onto the largest of Robischon’s three screens, borrowing black-and-white images captured by real NASA cameras.
All these years later, it is still fascinating, if not joyful, to watch, not only the intimidating scenery, but the demeanor of the astronauts themselves, bouncing like children, stunned by their own accomplishment, reflecting the pride shared by everyone. country .
Emrich improves upon the original visuals, editing red and white stripes that project the flag, and mixing other images together, in one case a painting of cowboys on horseback, gallantly riding along the beach. There is a self-congratulatory connection of the dots between old and new expansionism.
Without a doubt, there is a dark side to this moon landing, and Emrich is instilling the room with it. There is an immensity in its celestial landscape that suggests space is invincible and that this mighty mission is futile, a silly, high-tech exercise of old-fashioned imperialism from the start.
He surrounds this with more doubt. On a second screen, he projects videos he has captured over the past five years of American monuments, political rallies and industrial scenes. In the foreground of each of these scenes, which all hint at planetary division or destruction, he plants his own flag – a tiny, flapping version of Old Glory that suggests it’s America we’re celebrating now.
On the third screen, the smallest of them all, it displays abstract images of rodeo riders thrown, over and over again, slaughtering bulls. The message: The natural world is indomitable no matter how hard a cowboy tries. Sound artist Goran Vejvoda collaborated on the audio, which colorfully includes music clips from the TV series “Bonanza” and the old Marlboro cigarette jingle.
âDibsâ is a complex, multi-layered understanding of how this country has evolved, and it sums up the overall trilogy, which began with âContactâ in 2013, a simpler one-channel video that features footage from the moon and a mission control audio soundtrack alongside a busy beehive of honey bees. The video was on display for eight months at the Denver Art Museum.
(Emerich has appeared in a huge, and perhaps unprecedented, series of 11 exhibitions at DAM, dating back to 1981).
âContactâ was followed by its dual-channel âSplashdownâ in 2018, which contrasted vintage scenes and titles from the Apollo Landing (American Triumph) with images and symbols from the known fatal car crash under the name of “Chappaquiddick” which derailed the political career of Ted Kennedy (American tragedy). The two incidents took place just two days apart.
What is striking about the trilogy, beyond the choppy water of the visuals, is its roundness. The three parts come together to tell a story – despite their lack of clear narratives – but they rarely overlap, addressing distinct themes of diligence, risk and reward, futility, hope and disaster. Emrich has kept his eyes on the prize for a very long time, and that alone is an accomplishment.
Projects like the âApollo Trilogyâ are labors of love for an artist like Emrich. He is a successful photographer who makes a living from his work. He has exhibited in museums and galleries from here and elsewhere and for many years has had a fruitful relationship with Robischon, the best contemporary commercial gallery in the city.
But videos are barely hot commodities in today’s art market. They rarely sell. This is especially true for a three-channel room, such as “Dibs”, which requires considerable space to play.
Its creation is about commitment, or obsession, or perhaps desperation on the part of an artist to find a way to express ideas, in this case political. It is the essence of a certain art form that stands out from any potential for bringing wealth or fame to its creator.
Unlike material objects, such as paintings and sculptures, videos only exist if they are projected. They disappear. It is hoped that this particular trilogy will be screened in the future. It’s a museum-quality piece waiting to be picked up by a museum, and it’s not that hard to see an ambitious curator show all three videos simultaneously in adjacent rooms in a single exhibition.
In the meantime, there are a few weeks left to discover the third part at Robischon and to catch up with the previous two on Emrich’s site (garyemrich.com). Take a look at them first before heading to the gallery.
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