Channel surfing

By GREG COOK  |  November 17, 2009
ANIMATED CAMOUFLAGE Hlynsky, Palombo, and Powell’s Floating Hands.

In May 1978, Providence police raided the exhibition “Private Parts” at the Electron Movers loft on North Main Street to enforce a then-new state obscenity law. Officers seized doz-ens of artworks, including — an earnest local TV news anchorman told viewers — “exhibits of human genitals termed ‘horrible’ by Chief Angelo Ricci after two detectives visited yesterday.” I’ll never again question the heroism of our local law enforcement.

All this is recounted in a 1978 Laurie McDonald documentary screening in “Video Art Exhibition” at Gallery Z (259 Atwells Avenue, through November 28). The electronic time capsule exhibit showcases a 1970s recordings by McDonald and other members of the Electron Movers, a taste of early ’90s video from Joshua Pearson and Gardner Post’s Emergency Broadcast Network, plus recent works. It’s a rough draft of local art history that hopefully will inspire a larger local institution to more deeply plumb Ocean State tech art.

As with many infamous art historical moments, “Private Parts” is remembered more for the raid than the art, which included instant prints from a photo booth in which peo-ple at the opening photographed themselves flashing the camera. Since the show didn’t focus on video, it wasn’t representative of what the Electron Movers, a collective that grew out of RISD in 1974, were up to.

What they were up to was experimental fooling around with video, a technology then just beginning to become available to the general public. Layering moving images was a favorite technique, as can be seen in Dennis Hlynsky’s Running Tape  (1973), featuring overlapping silhouettes of a running man, and Hlynsky, Philip Palombo, and Alan Powell’s Floating Hands  (1976), showing disembodied hands dancing about like animated camouflage.

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