Humanity in Slow Motion
By Suzanne Walsh
David Michalek is a California born artist based in New York that is focused on telling the story of the contemporary human through elegant and thoroughly provocative examinations of the human body in motion. For his exhibition “Figure Studies,” showing through December at the Pomona College Museum of Art, Michalek presents video artworks that borrow from the solemn majesty of still photography although his subject matter is anything but still. Part intimate portrait, part scientific exploration, his HD video pieces utilize the latest technology to capture five-second choreographed performances recorded at an incredibly high frame rate. When played in real time, the five seconds captured stretch to a length of 10 minutes or more—in essence defying the laws of physics within the realm of photography—the capture of a single experiential moment. In this case that “single moment” has been bundled together with other moments, sequentially, and pulled across time. The result is a highly detailed look at the how the body performs for every instant it is moving, working, being. Even the most mundane action under Michalek’s rapid and meticulous gaze becomes strikingly beautiful.
As a body of work, his “Figure Studies” series is a continuation of the much-acclaimed “Slow Dancing,” which consisted of a series of video portraits of dancers, shot in the same manner. Gorgeous movement experts with perfect form and passion pouring out of their pores with every turn or flex—“Slow Dancing” hones in to the human spirit in split-instants with incredible accuracy and intimacy. With “Figure Studies,” Michalek continues to build strong narratives through the celebration of movement, including these intimate and often overlooked moments, along with straight forward (but no less emotionally stirring) configurations that speak to the haunting and astounding work of Eadweard Muybridge. In all the videos, the figures are captured nude against a deep, dark background so that all attention can be given to the play of bone, muscle and skin.
It is clear that Michalek as an artist possesses the same genius as Muybridge, exploring the outer reaches of what technology can provide to achieve his artistic vision. If you are aware of the work of Eadweard Muybridge, the 17th century pioneer in motion photography, than you can also remember the first time you experienced his work. Intriguing contact sheets of a figure, each frame representing a single moment of movement. When played together they represented the first ever moving picture. Even today, in an age when the motion picture is an inescapable part of our everyday lives, Muybridge’s work continues to intrigue. He was truly the first to capture the countless mannerisms hidden within how a creature moves. His work revealed aspects of human and animal movement never before realized. Taking in the work of David Michalek, the viewer is struck with the same sense of discovery.
As a whole, the exhibit is a stunning meditation on the nature of life. If we are alive than we are in movement, from the blood running through our veins to the rotation of weight from heel to toes, which facilitate the momentum that propels us forward. These are not small details. In this exhibition a mere five seconds have been successfully rendered a sacred and profound occurrence and should not be missed.
“Figure Studies” at Pomona College Museum of Art, 330 N. College Ave., Claremont, (909) 621-8283, www.pomona.edu/museum. On view thru December 22. Museum open Tues-Sun, 12PM-5PM.