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Ceramic Figurines (A), 
video still.

File Holder (B), 
video still.

Ceramic Figurines (B), 
video still.

File Holder (C), 
video still.

Ceramic Figurines (D), 
video still.

Pocket Tray (C), 
video still.

phyllis baldino
at lauren wittels gallery

by Catherine Morris

 "For television, time has an absolute 
existence... It is television's only solid, a 
tangible commodity... The smallest salable 
piece turns out to be the ten-second spot, 
and all television is assembled from it." 
 --David Antin, "Video: The Distinctive 
Features of the Media" 1976.

In Anthony Asquith's witty and sardonic 

film The Woman in Question (1950), a murder 

investigation hinges on the dissection of a 

series of widely varying descriptions of 

the personality and character of the victim 

of the crime. As each potential suspect 

recounts his or her memories of the woman 

and her last few days, the viewer jumps 

from portrait to portrait, comparing 

details and nuance--making evaluations of 

each character. Impressions, conversations 

and scenarios are introduced, some are 

repeated, altered and recast, while others 

never appear again or metamorphose into 

entirely new events and interactions. As an 

exercise in assessment and appraisal, The 

Woman in Question entertains; as a 

challenge to the viewer's memory and 

attention to detail, it provokes. 

Phyllis Baldino's exhibition "In the 

Present" at Lauren Wittels Gallery has 

affinities to The Woman in Question, and 

engages the viewer in a similar pursuit for 

information that defines and characterizes 

a series of events that may or may not be 

related, but which constitute a body of 

evidence. In Baldino's case, however, the 

artist's performances and video 

documentation require the viewer to track a 

series of modified objects rather than an a 

duplicitous persona. And, instead of 

solving a murder, the process culminates in 

a humorous and frenetic display of the 

psychosis of the assisted ready-made and 

its insidious hold on current art-making. 

The formal construction of "In the Present" 

originates from William James' temporal 

definition of the present: experience, 

unimpeded by memory, which can only occur 

in a span of time ranging from three to 12 

seconds. Within these guides Baldino ties 

time to perception by offering 50 discrete 

experiences of information given in the 

present--her videos range from three to 12 

seconds each--but which use the viewer's 

memory and recollection to elucidate the 

associations that link the pieces. 

Installed as two simultaneous projections, 

each displaying half of the videos, "In the 

Present" requires the viewer to track the 

narrative history of 15 found objects on 

both screens as they appear and reappear in 

different guises and in various locations. 

Often little more than a blip or a flash of 

activity and sound, each piece seems to 

slip away just as you begin to comprehend 

the image and the context.

Baldino's sculptures undergo a variety of 

modifications during the course of the 

projection, which lasts 11 minutes and 40 

seconds. A file holder, a giant spatula, a 

shower caddy and a hamper are worn, lived 

in by cats, used to display pies at a 

diner, and enlisted as snow shoes. Each 

video captures an action or a moment with 

one of the objects present--usually in use, 

but occasionally unidentifiable. In the 

series called "Ceramic Figurines," for 

example, video A takes ten seconds to show 

the artist decapitating a group of ceramic 

figures using wrench and a hammer. "Ceramic 

Figurines B" runs for 12 seconds and places 

the residual stacked heads at the extreme 

left in a tightly framed shot of a foot 

dancing and stepping among votive candles. 

"Ceramic Figurine C" offers a six-second 

glimpse of the stacked heads adorning the 

rearview mirror of a delivery truck and 

"Ceramic Figurines D" end the series with 

ten-second shot of a beach scene in which 

the artist extracts the heads from the sand 

with her foot. 

Two of Baldino's earlier bodies of work, 

the "Unknown Series (excerpts)" and "Gray 

Area" are comprised of groups of videos 

shot in one take and presented without 

editing "in real time." Each of the pieces 

in these series showed the artist in the 

act of constructing something from a found 

object whose original use may or may not 

have been related to the final form created 

by Baldino. Clock/Not Clock from the "Gray 

Area" series or Candle Thing from the 

"Unknown Series (excerpts)" invoke 

performance, sculpture, utility and the 

absurdity of objects, all in unedited time. 

Both of these bodies of work introduced 

Baldino's ongoing concerns: "In the 

Present" abstracts and condenses them in 

cohesive and elusive installation.

PHYLLIS BALDINO, "In the Present," at 

Lauren Wittels Gallery, Nov. 15-Dec. 21, 

1996, 48 Greene Street, New York, N.Y. 


CATHERINE MORRIS is a New York writer and 

art historian.