Two of the most visually and metaphorically compelling elements within the derelict Hugo House in San Francisco were a camera obscura effect in a dark corner room-- traffic moving upside down, barely discernible on the studs and boards of one deconstructed wall and a “banquet room,” the red tablecloth of the dining table and upholstery on the chairs completely covered with pigeon dung, the bay windows broken, home to pigeons nesting, flying in and out. These two elements represented both the life that had once filled the building and, despite its abandonment, the continuation of life around it, even penetrating the space itself almost as if attempting to revive it. Rather than focusing on decay, these images are woven together to create a vibrant tribute to the building and the life it had supported over so many decades. Music composed by Matt DiFonzo.
3 minute loop, 2014
The Five Elements
This video was commissioned for the 18’ long video wall of the Jumeriah Hotel in Shanghai. It juxtaposes and weaves together layers of images from both California and Shanghai that represent the five Chinese elements: earth, water, fire, wood, and metal. There are amusement park rides from Santa Monica that signify metal; trees and plants from the California coast that represent wood and earth. For water, there are jellyfish from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and colorful fountains from Shanghai. Fireworks and sparks from a sculptor’s welding torch, bring in the fire element. The intent of these intricate combinations is to emphasize the relationship of interdependence that the elements have with each other in the endless cycle of creation and destruction of virtually everything in the universe.
4 minutes 2013
Through Caverns Measureless To Man
Through Caverns Measureless to Man, is a site-specific installation created for the magnificent 5th century Byzantine cistern of the Nakkas Art Gallery in Istanbul, Turkey. Inspired by Xanadu, the enchanted domain described in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kublai Khan, the installation transforms the already spectacular cistern with digitally altered video and evocative music into a world where sea creatures float by like breathing moons, forests morph into sunless seas, and shadowy figures bear witness to the transformations around them. Music by Matt DiFonzo.
11 minute loop, 2011
Dog Star is a whimsical music video starring— a robotic dog! It is based on the idea of glitch music, a form of electronica that uses sampling, multiple cuts and the appropriation of artifacts—glitches in recordings—-that would normally be viewed as mistakes. In this case the video editing process has been pushed to discover artifacts like the graphic red and white framing of the subject. Matt DiFonzo composed this classically glitch music to satirize the most blatant of pop music.
3 minute loop, 2011
At The Edge Of The World
This 2-channel installation is a meditation on the fragility, ambiguity, and uncertainty of what we think of as reality. Halcyon beach scenes are layered and juxtaposed with television news images of the sudden, catastrophic destruction of the Japanese tsunami. Unidentifiable figures pass through obliviously, or motionlessly bear witness. Borealis-like flashes of light signify another dimension beyond the quotidian, the cataclysmic, in which transcendence and illumination beckon. Music by Matt DiFonzo.
6 minute loop, 2011
Encounters At The Edge Sight
In this 3-channel video installation representing The Dream, The Dreamer and The Narrator, the music weaves a thread of connection among the conceptual and physical spaces, and creates dialogue among the images. The pace of the videos echoes the dream state in which there is an elaboration and integration of memories and experiences, arbitrary collapse and expansion of time, and ambiguity of past, present and future. The varying degrees of abstraction challenge the viewers to participate in the dreaming and to tell the story for themselves. Music by Matt DiFonzo.
9 minute loop, 2011
A buzzing hive is a dynamic construct representing both connection with others and retreat into private worlds. Urban life, in particular, can feel chaotic, with the excitement of traffic, commerce and people, the bombardment of light and movement, the medley of noise 24/7. We thrive on the stimulation, and the constant incidental and intentional social contact with others. But we also need relief from this onslaught, a protected space where we can relax, contemplate, regenerate, by ourselves or with a chosen few.
Welcome to Hive, a metaphorical representation of some of the dichotomies and fragmentation that characterize the realities of modern existence. In an ebb and flow of activities, we connect with and expand into the world around us, and retreat into inner worlds to relax and recharge. But whether we are alone or with others, in public or in private, we are connected through our technology, our possessions, and our thoughts and memories to a wider social fabric. In form and content, this installation attempts to provide a visceral experience of the excitement and interconnectivity of contemporary life, and the attempt to find some sort of portal to tranquility within the context of constant stimulation and information overload. Music by Matt DiFonzo.
8 minute loop, 2010
Controlled Burn is languidly sensuous, figurative and abstract, surprisingly meditative with a score by Matt DiFonzo that hints at fractured wind chimes and warped gamelan. Through filters that distance us from the personal, “Controlled Burn” depicts an icon of danger, desire and power. A warrior goddess draws with flame and light, carving the space around her, piercing the veil of reality, mediating between worlds and inviting rapt voyeurs to burn with her.
9 minute loop, 2008
“Eckland handles video like the medium of collective dreams that we share without knowing it. Apparently she wants us to know it.”
Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 2007
On a train journey from New York to Baltimore, a typical American landscape unfolds. Despite the, at times, dizzying speed, the viewer might be lulled into a feeling of detachment and complacency. The reality of our times, however, is that below the surface of the “normal,” the quotidian, lay specters of fear and anxiety over a future that at any moment may be disastrously changed. Each of the videos in this three channel projected installation, combine to create an environment that is at once nostalgic for a vaguely remembered ideal past, and disquieting in its subtextual references.
“Eckland seems to seek a visual quality suggestive of dream memories that lose definition just before we can arrive at their meaning. “Heartland” mutely links this frustration with the cultural condition in which we expect to see a momentous event reported through muzzy cell phone videos or surveillance photos as often as through the sleek spectacle of big media…”
Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 2007
As curator Theres Rohan wrote about the piece,
“As with some of her earlier work, first glance never tells the story. These new projections could as well be titled ‘false security’ as Eckland, true to her art, knows here how to lull the viewer into a homecoming to an idealized childhood or a daily ritual of niceties perhaps, but soon enough breaks this coda. She provides the viewer scant enough narrative information to elicit a dichotomy of tranquility and mayhem. Each projection is on its own loop, however they are of different duration, intersecting images never to coincide again, thus accentuating the idea of randomness and potential chaos. The electronic score by collaborator Matt DiFonzo parallels and haunts, at times hovers, but is not aggressive.”
DiFonzo’s evocative score links and defines the three videos, carrying the viewer through the varied landscapes into a realm of personal reverie.
8 minute loop, 2007
It seems useful to periodically reexamine the symbols and icons that are so ingrained and ubiquitous in a culture that their meaning is taken for granted. A country’s flag is one such symbol, usually representing in the broadest sense independence and national identity. The flag of the United States has a special place in global iconography. Instantly recognizable by most of the world, it has accrued numerous associations from the essence of freedom and promise to the epitome of arrogance and domination. In this video, an American flag flapping in a strong wind has been deconstructed to represent the changes that this country’s image has undergone since 9/11. The hip hop version of martial music by Matt DiFonzo complements both the structure and meaning of the visuals, alluding to the beat of war, the oratory of inspiration and the jazzy dirge for the death of an ideal.
5 minute loop, 2007
Event Horizon is movement and image honed to a sharp, graphic edge. It offers a meditation on the Law of Conservation of Energy that states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can change its form, and that the total quantity of matter and energy available in the universe is a fixed amount, never any more or less. The looped image gives the viewer an opportunity to notice subtle changes while anticipating the next moment. There is really no black or white, no ultimate extinction. What comes first, the seed or the tree? Energy or matter? The experience of awareness is enhanced by the score by Matt DiFonzo, which weaves familiar, but unidentifiable organic sounds into environmental textures that could be the sound of molecules colliding, rain falling on dry leaves, seeds germinating, fire crackling or pure electricity.
9 minute loop, 2007
It is the human condition to know and for the most part choose to ignore the fundamental knowledge that each and every one of our lives is finite. Not only will we all die, few of us are privy to the exact details of that death. In the course of everyday life, death is usually an act of nature, an accident, illness that randomly visits one person over another. In our contemporary world, there are human agents of mayhem, destruction and death as there have always been. Governments or maniacal leaders wage war on other nations and against their own citizens, and it is a chilling reality that now individuals, affiliated with nothing more than ideology, can create mayhem, basically anywhere in the world at any time. It is this global sense of possibility, of the indiscriminateness of violence that this video addresses.
On an ordinary street, on an ordinary day an assortment of people pass by. The video depicts, not the actual deaths and ensuing mayhem that a sniper’s rifle, grenade or explosives would create, but the fact of the randomness, that those killed, as in any war are by and large the innocent, trying to live their mundane lives, senselessly impacted by brutality. The seductive music weaves an aura of normalcy and calm, despite the fact that no one knows when the next outrage will be inflicted. Music by Matt DiFonzo.
5 minute loop, 2007
Inspired by Dvorak’s opera of the same name, with stylistic nods to Degas, this video reinvents the fairytale of the water nymph living in a forest lake who longs to be human to win the love of the Prince. This contemporary nymph needs no one but herself and her rhythmic attunement to her world, as she effortlessly flows between land and water. With her running shoes underneath her tutu, she is also no Ophelia, but has the strength, determination and grace to meet life’s challenges. The music is composed by Matt DiFonzo.
3 minute loop, 2006
Highly altered image and ambient sound are designed to create a portrait and a breathless tribute. This brief video encapsulates the essence of the energy and athleticism of dance competitions, dance-skating, whirling dervishes and the frenetic dance of life, itself. Sound design is by the artist.
38 second loop, 2006
While working on my fellowship in video at Kala, I found myself strongly attracted to the aesthetics of the ancient freight elevator and decided to make it my studio. I began inviting some of the other artists working there into this unique space to be interviewed. They could do or say anything they wished for as long as they wanted. Most of the 17 interviews were about 20 minutes. Some were as long as an hour. At times I commented or asked a question. Sometimes a conversation ensued. The elevator became a metaphorical confessional where instead of sins, people articulated, and in some cases acted out, passions and inspirations. The Elevator Interviews reflects how the artists and the atmosphere of Kala combine in an alchemical way to create a laboratory of possibilities from which exceptional projects and ideas evolve.
1 hour video, 2006
“Ruth Eckland works near the end of the video art spectrum where the very texture of information can count as content. At Meridian, Eckland presents a new exercise in video lyricism called “Star Fields.”
Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 2005
Star Fields is an environment of image and sound utilizing two channel video projections on a dimensional screen arrangement that appears almost holographic. The installation is designed to offer the viewer an experience of discovering in the darkness the correspondences that pulse within us and without. The digitally enhanced black and white video may be a microcosm of wave motion at one moment in time, an artist’s conception of the firing of neurons or a mapping of the radiant denizens of the great macrocosm itself. The only certainty is that light cannot exist without darkness, nor darkness without light. It is the contrast that makes each knowable.
Figurative images, like fragments of memories, bridge the shifting orientations of perception with human emotion, action and creation. Resistant to simple description, they are archetypal constructs open to interpretation. The female figure’s affect may be earthly passion, transcendent rapture or even fear. The quest may be to become a generator of or a lightning rod for the energies that flow through the universe. The images emerge, blend and juxtapose themselves inviting yet ultimately defeating rational narrative. The result is an experience beyond the ability of just the intellect to parse, conducive to more personal, dream-like scenarios to arise. Music by Matt DiFonzo.
6 minute loop, 2007
The Bearable Lightness Of Being
This is a single channel video of a large, hairy “bear” of a man swimming. The video was shot mostly through a window in the side of a pool giving a clear underwater view of his movements in the water. Central to the theme are the grace and the natural buoyancy of this full-bellied, lumbering body in this fluid environment. Following the subtle movements of the swimmer and the surrounding water, the camera reveals moments of elegance, of dissolution and of effulgence. As with most of Eckland’s videos, this work is metaphoric, almost like dream, with the device of repetition used like a refrain or a chorus for both thematic emphasis and internal rhythm. The music, arranged in three movements, is by composer Matt DiFonzo.
7 minute loop, 2005
“Eckland makes art of the tension between our hunger for narrative and the discomfort of insufficient information, plus aesthetic offerings to the eye that strike it as ample and rewarding…”
Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 2003
The video, Blindfold, was first exhibited in 2003. In that version this robotic doll, that was meant to entertain or give solace to a young child, emitted a loud, wrenching, slightly crazed cry every time it crawled and fell over. The soundtrack with these cries created an extremely disturbing piece with overtones of abuse. Last year a collector, who is also a curator, approached me and asked if I would consider reediting the soundtrack to exclude the cries. She argued that it would become for her a completely different piece, one that was more meditative and would allow for the focus to be on other metaphoric elements. One of my underlying themes for this piece has always been the fact that we are all on journeys of discovery, and all as a condition of our humanity, in effect, blind to our future. I felt that changing the soundtrack would not compromise the integrity of the piece and would, in fact, create a vehicle more able to deliver this subtext. Technically, I have, for many years, worked with scrims and veils, interested in the mystery of the partially revealed. The soft focus, slow motion and even the doll’s blindfold further explore the limits of our vision and our visioning. The music, which is almost narrative in character, is by my frequent collaborator, Matt DiFonzo.
6 minute loop, 2006
I appreciate the movement vocabulary inherent in the mechanical toys I sometimes choose as subjects, as well as the social, historical and emotional allusions that they embody. Having always had a fascination with both electric trains and the mesmerizing effects of long distance train travel, I set out to capture some of these feelings. Along the way, I found the almost German Expressionist light and shadow of my installation to be most interesting, adding an ominous tone to the piece. As art critic Kenneth Baker wrote,
“Last Train makes a haunting poem of pictorial process… It dimly recalls without nostalgia the American Scene aesthetic ofEdward Hopper and Charles Burchfield, while its title stirs faint echoes of the blues and of more terrible modern conditions of exile.”
The music is by Matt DiFonzo.
4 minute loop, 2003
“Reality TV.” A strange misnomer. A “channel surf” revealed a rather amazing sight–part of an episode of the program, Fear Factor, in which contestants literally placed their heads in a box full of rats. This digitally manipulated and highly altered version of the experience is a good example of how I utilize and radically transform in appearance and content, a moment in the life of mass media. What was an exercise in empty sensationalism becomes an exploration of archetypal fears and almost mythological transformations of these fears through seeming acceptance perhaps even some kind of communication with the objects of fear. The music is by Autechre; the sound design is mine.