Daniel von Sturmer: “Focus & Field” at Young Projects

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The Cinema Complex series, 2010
Daniel von Sturmer, Video still
Photo: courtesy of the artist and Young Projects

Working with highly reductive means to highly engaging effect, the Australian-based video artist Daniel von Sturmer’s four-month-long survey show at Young Projects paraded his appealing sleight-of-hand in numerous guises, all of them distinctive for their humble means and visual wit. Extending beyond the gallery’s usual space in the Pacific Design Center to fill a second, glass-walled gallery, the exhibition ranks among the most ambitious and immersive that curator Paul Young has assembled. As Australia’s representative at the 52nd Venice Biennale, von Sturmer’s conceptually rigorous artwork is distinguished by its lightness of touch and encompasses a range of practices. Indeed, what’s perhaps most striking about it is its insistent materiality: while using video as a format, he presents temporary, rudimentary sculptures being constructed, drawings being drawn, even paint being poured. In fact, the artist’s hand appears regularly as a character and catalyst in many of these videos. The open, unaffected way von Sturmer employs video as a means of reflecting back on the basic lexicon of other practices is striking. But his understanding of video’s spacial capabilities, and assumed verisimilitude, is deceptive in its craftiness; even with their low-tech means, his works manage to delight the viewer with their playful exactitude.

The Cinema Complex encompasses five works from 2010; each of the different “sequences” purportedly examines a particular aspect of filmmaking; in the work about “plot” a pencil pushes small objects off a tiny ledge, while in another, he creates little sculptural “characters” out of materials like balls of putty, Styrofoam cones, rubber bands, and cardboard shapes. In one large, projected video, we see the artist’s hand as he draws a white uneven chalk circle on a black background, as the surface rotates beneath, then similarly wipes the newly created form away with a damp cloth. In another cleverly compelling work, colored paint streaks down a surface, resolving itself into what we come to recognize as standard video color bars. In the annex space, across the hall, a 9-screen video work is dispersed amidst an installation of off-white scenery flats. Titled Camera Ready Actions (2014), these works highlight simple geometric forms as they are created by, or framed by, the artist’s hand, all framed deliberately for the camera; in one work, he appears to draw a rectangle, then passes a form by hand-to-hand from background to foreground. The trickery is simple but mesmerizing; using a humble theater of common objects, von Sturmer teasingly parses out a root language to artistic practice, one deft nuance at a time.