Artist Will Rogan and His Things

In the Matrix Gallery at the Berkeley Art Museum until June 9, 2014 is an exhibition of time-based works by Will Rogan, a local artist (so local he lives in my one-square-mile city of Albany). Just reading about a film he made, shot at 6,900 frames per second (which renders it in highly detailed slow motion) in which a hearse is blown up was enough to get me curious. What would five seconds look like in eight minutes? We visited the show on May 4.

As we sat in the large, high-ceilinged gallery room in the dark, we were transfixed watching the screen. Knowing that the film, titled "Eraser"(according to the exhibition pamphlet, although mentioned as "Erase" in this article) was only 5:45 minutes long made the slowness bearable and even delightful. Although we arrived in the middle, it was on a loop, so we could see the entire process, albeit out of order. That's a strange experience in itself: begin with a mass of smoke and particles moving as if in water that burst like fireworks and glitter, eventually watch as a hubcap gradually pulls away from the chaos and rolls toward the viewer, then come around to a still image of a white hearse in a field. Explosions, we discover, are lightning fast, even in slow motion. But the fallout is much slower. Overall, the film is a blast…(I hear a groan.)

It made me think about pacing. In this case, the medium of film is perfect. This would not work as a flip book. You would have no sense of the pace change. And paging through all the frames, one-by-one, would become tedious. But you could vary the pace of a book-like version by picking out a certain number of images for each section: in the beginning the change at each page turn would be rapid, perhaps only three images, chosen many frames apart, then it would settle slowly, less and less change until the last two or three pages, which would have minuscule variations. Could be done as a woodcut or linoleum cut, even. Slowing down time seems a good antidote to multitasking. (An excellent resource on pacing in books is Chapter 2: Picture Sequence in Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz.)

The notes on the BAM website mention the content "transforms the destruction of a universal symbol of death into a transcendental imagistic effect."  The explosion looks cool: destruction is transformed into beauty. Now, consider how you might feel if the hearse had been: a fighter plane, a tricycle, a golf cart, a little red wagon, a Mercedes, a Jaguar, an ambulance, a pickup truck, or a milk truck. How do your emotions change as you try out each of the alternative vehicles? In most works of art, the choices are important: different choices can create different meanings.

Rogan had an artist book in his exhibition as well. Called Broken Wands, it is a facsimile collection of obituaries of magicians culled from magician's trade magazines dating from 1962-1980. The ones he chose often mention timepieces ("He was an expert watchmaker") and if the magician died during or shortly after performing. One beloved magician created and became an expert in performing magic tricks for blind children. The Zyzzyva review by James H. Miller points out that these deaths are the magicians' final vanishing acts.

When I visited, the book was available in the art museum's gift shop for $10. It came with a belly band that said its ISBN was 978-0-9849150-3-3, Manufactured in Canada. "Produced on the occasion of the exhibition Will Rogan/Matrix 253 at the UC Berkeley Art Museum with the help of Laurel Gitlen Gallery and Altman Siegel Gallery." You can read the exhibition brochure here.

Rogen is also a co-producer with John Herschend for the object-based subscription series called The Thing Quarterly. For $240 you get four mostly word-based or conceptual objects designed by four different artists per year. $60 each for a limited edition artwork. Issue 22, for example, is a set of pillowcases designed by John Baldessari: screen printed from a still from a movie in which a woman clutches a pillow. Outside of the subscription, it sells for $90. Subscription 23-26 begins with Spring 2014. From what I can tell, you don't know what the art will be until you receive it. There is a lively sense of playfulness about the objects that makes you feel good just looking at the pictures.

Here is a cool video from a couple of years ago, where he talks about meaning in everyday objects. "[We all experience] these large, meaningful moments through these small, personal things."