Continuing through July 13, 2013
Daniel Bennett, a recent MFA graduate of the New Media department of University of Illinois-Chicago, takes a conceptually sophisticated approach to child-like fascination in his 7-and-a-half-minute video, "Definitions 1." The piece is both a work of new media as well as a record of a performative practice, as the artist uses his body to examine the functions and limitations of the automated components in our environments.
"Definitions 1" is comprised of three parts. In one, viewers follow Bennett as he investigates an automatic sliding door — a common modern convenience that we typically interact with intuitively. Here, the artist takes a slow, deliberate approach to determining the parameters of this machine. With what, at first, looks like a graceful dance, Bennett carefully sets his feet, reaching out his hand to test the limits of the motion sensor with his fingertips, and pulling back quickly if he triggers the door to open. Though the duration of this ‘dance’ is punctuated by the work’s two other vignettes, we watch this story unfold, the artist edging his form around the invisible boundaries toward his ultimate goal: squishing his body against the closed door as he slides along it, completing a full circle around the outside of the motion sensor’s range of vision.
Where the sliding door performance is narrative, tension-filled and absurdly dramatic, another scene is much simpler. In this singular drawn-out moment in time, the camera records footage of the artist’s khaki-clad legs walking the moving sidewalk of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It’s clear that Bennett has located that familiar sensation of ‘standing still’ that delights a child the first time she learns to walk in the direction opposite to the machine’s advancing belt. The shot is lengthy enough for us to appreciate the beauty of the composition and the metaphor of futility, but towards the end we hear the tinny airport muzak switch to a version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and "Definitions 1" is delightfully silly once again.
Somewhere between the saga of the sliding door and the portrait of the moving legs is the third chapter of the piece. Here, Bennett is at the airport once more, again illustrating his unique manner of interacting but not quite interfering with mechanical conveniences. From the foot of a moving sidewalk, we see the soles of Bennett’s shoes as he lies on his back, allowing the belt to transport him along its length. As giggling travelers sidestep the artist’s wide shoulders, he moves closer and closer towards the end of the sidewalk and the footage stops abruptly before he would presumably be dumped off the belt and onto the tiled floor. The timing of the cut is humorous but also leaves us guessing. In fact, each vignette of "Definitions 1" prompts us to consider that there are still things to wonder about and discover in the everyday conveniences we take for granted.