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TJ Norris at New American Art Union (Portland)
by Richard Speer
Aug 2008

TJ Norris at New American Art Union

TJ Norris timewarps into the future and the past in his installation, INFINITUS, billed as a “multimedia video lounge.” The elegant exhibition is something of a love letter to New York City in the Ed Koch era, when the then-twentysomething artist haunted Brooklyn and Manhattan, attending Warhol and Basquiat openings and soaking up an ambiance that pivoted between chi-chi and seedy. Inside New American Art Union’s main gallery space (windows covered in linen block out external light), a light box announces in calligraphic script, “Reserve the right to remain silent,” aping Miranda rights and establishing a cheekily sinister atmosphere. Five gray slabs lead the eye through the space, each appointed with a head cushion which grudgingly invites the viewer to recline and watch two channels of video projected onto the ceiling above. The imagery includes vintage-1980s automobiles whooshing by; a hand-held camera lumbering down a run-down apartment hallway; a disco ball lazily revolving in the middle of a wood-paneled room; and a traffic sign silhouetted against the gray sky. These images unfurl as a specially commissioned soundtrack, Christian Renou’s Land of Confusion, sputters and pulsates ambiently.

At the gallery’s far wall is a cutout skyline of Manhattan stretching across the room, backlit, with traces of illumination spilling over from a whorish red light seeping out of the bathroom from a complementary installation by Rose McCormick, entitled Dovetail Deux. In this futuristic sepulcher of monochrome gray, the judicious emanation of color adds a welcome za-za-zoom. Indeed, the show as a whole benefits from a dialectic between integration and dissonance: the cucumber-cool minimalism of the space versus the gritty, grainy portrait of New York displayed in the video footage. This is New York not as it was in reality, nor even in Norris’ halcyon flashbacks; it is more a kind of theme park ride in the future that summons forth a simulacrum that is impersonal yet still evocative of a time and place lapsed but not entirely lost.

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