James O'Donnell's Between a Rock and a Hard Place, a video installation, is part of a three work exhibition of installation art at AVA Gallery through April 20. I Guess You Had To Be There includes works by Ashley Hamilton, Tim Hinck and Baggs McKelvey as well.
Review for Between a Rock and a Hard Place:
Between a Rock and a Hard Place is a new video installation that creates dialectic between cultural fantasies and realities by utilizing symbolic imagery from basketball. Mr. O'Donnell said, "My intention is that my video installation will provoke closer examination of not only the physical but also psychological spaces we inhabit and encourage dialogue concerning authority, celebrity, masculinity, and race.
"As a former public school art teacher, I was privy to my students’ dreams. When asked to create fantasy self-portraits of themselves in the future, two of the favorites among the boys of my primarily African-American school were star athlete and hip hop artist. I was reminded of artist David Hammons 1982 installation of outrageously tall basketball hoops entitled Higher Goals that demonstrated the likelihood of such fantasies. I also became aware that several of my students had a parent, a close family member, or knew someone in prison (black men comprise 40 percent of all males incarcerated). How does one reconcile these two drastically different visions?
"My concept is a new ‘dialogue’ between two independently created videos. In the first video (separately titled Be a Man), a basketball bounces hypnotically, repeatedly rushing towards the viewer from darkness and, after a booming thud, vanishing just as quickly back (Video Sample 1). It is as if seen through a glass floor and is seemingly self-propelled, as there is no one visibly dribbling the ball. It pauses, briefly filling the frame with its orange flesh-like bumpy texture, before it commences its barrage again. The pounding suggests aggression and is reminiscent of a judge’s gavel or the ticking of a clock.
"Opposite this video is a second (separately titled Whistling) featuring a partial view of a white man (me), from the shoulders to the mouth, wearing a plain white T-shirt and holding a silver whistle in his mouth (Video Sample 2). The man blows the whistle as hard as he can for 10 minutes, seemingly until he can blow no longer. There is no sound. Why would a person test his/her limits in this way? Why would they continue a futile endeavor? During the performance, spittle both launches and drips from the instrument in abject detail and the body becomes increasingly weaker until it ends and loops once again. The whistle can represent authority as it is the primary tool of the referee whom enforces the rules of the game. “Dribbling” can be done with a ball or with spittle, usually by a baby. Does the absence of sound reflect an absence of real power or does that sound (power) exist in our minds regardless? In our daily lives there are no referees, but are we still playing a game?
"The title is both familiar and layered. Literally, it is the relationship or dialogue between the videos. A slang term for a basketball is 'rock.' Failure or exhaustion in reaching one’s dreams would certainly be 'a hard place,' as would the courthouse and the prisons to which many verdicts lead. Many young people are caught between these extremes. More importantly, the title also hints that what we are looking for is hidden between the two extremes. The viewer stands between the videos and rather than a deterministic binary, there is a third, less visible option – the path we choose for ourselves."
Mr. O’Donnell has lived and worked in Atlanta for several years where he both teaches and makes art. His work is based on personal experiences mixed with larger philosophical and social themes, often exploring love, loss, disconnection, and impermanence. He received a BA in Art Education from the University of Florida in 2004. Since then he has taught elementary, middle, and college art and presents regularly both locally and nationally on a number of topics. He recently completed an MFA at Georgia State University and is currently employed as assistant professor of Art Education at the University of West Georgia. His work is included in collections nationally and internationally, exhibited most recently at Art Basel Miami Beach.
AVA Gallery is at 30 Frazier Ave. For more information visit http://www.avarts.org/exhibits-ava-galleries/ The gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.