By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

In the characteristic collaborative mood that we have come to expect from Zero1 planners, San Jose State’s Art Department and Montalvo both hosted Portuguese installation and performance artist Miguel Palma, to provide a gallery site and a stimulating creative residence for his stay while working on another of his fascinating en situ works.  With the official opening of Zero1 on Thursday, September 16, a satellite projection of the San Jose State installation can be seen in the entry corridor of the Convention Center on Market Street, downtown.

Fascinated with cars, speed — both fast and slow — Palma whipped out a car of his own with the help of designers and engineers

Lectures at both Montalvo and San Jose State’s Art Department this last week provided glimpses into the videos Palma produces to document his extensive international productions.  Sometimes he films dry and repetitive scenes of small movements and slow tedious shifts of elements as seen from an unmoving single viewpoint.  Other videos document his social actions in the context of the art world and utilizes travel or the vehicle as a metaphor.  Rather mindless, but funny, is a repetitive, grainy, soft-focus view of water sloshing around and over some boxy structures, in a small contained space in his vehicle, as the artist drives toward Rotterdam, where he is to present a visual statement on the ongoing relationship of the City to the sea.  Sometimes they are humorous and ironic demonstrations of the artist’s unending fascination with transportation, travel, speed and destruction. A restored ambulance, painted in official looking exterior markings, is outfitted inside with a series of cameras and video screens.  As the artist drives the ambulance around the streets of Lisbon, making provocative moves, imitating an expedited trip to the hospital or the scene of an accident, the cameras inside are programmed to record the simulated accidents he causes en route. After a spate of recent crashes of medivac helicopters where  pilots, co-pilots, medical personnel and the injured all perished, we may indeed ask how real is it to pose the ambulance as the instigator.

Another audience favorite is a motorcycle racing along the white center markings of an asphalt road.  As the camera pans out, we see Palma’s hand stabilizing the plastic model on a rotating sandpaper belt with broken lines painted down the middle.  The artist is wearing driving gloves and his goggles.  The bike rides and rides until parts begin to fall off, the hand begins to press the damaged vehicle more urgently into the sanding belt, grinding away parts, until the last remnants of a plastic headlight have been melted and sanded away.  The arbitrary destruction of the miniature motorbike is funny and the timing on the sequence of events is perfect. It is hard to shake the sense that any number of motorcyclists are truly hell-bent on destruction.

Palma’s fascination with destruction extends to the crashing of what appears to be a giant museum-quality urn that is hoisted up into a light well and then dropped.  Another installation features the slow motion destruction of an antique chair that is infested with termites.

On a a slightly different track, yet endearing, is a super 8 video of Palmas’s big furry white dog riding along with his head sticking out of a roughly simulated space craft positioned on top of the artist’s car, in a performance inspired by Soviet dog Leika’s adventure in space.  Palma confesses that the dog loved it at first, but later made it clear with assertive barking that he was tired of the ride.  Palma says his Russian audience was not charmed by the accompanying sound track: lively folk music from Eastern Europe that he had mistaken for Russian.

Palma takes a lot of pleasure in making the slow fast, turning the inside out and conflating the small and large, or the near and far view.  He seems to challenge all our egocentric perceptions of time, space, movement,  destination and purpose.

Miguel Palma’s installation in the SJSU Thompson Gallery rotates slowly with a bird’s eye camera angle that re-orients our perception of spatial relationships.

Palma gets “mileage” out of passenger jet aircraft maquettes from travel agencies installed in juxtaposition to earthly structures below that rotate on a slow moving conveyer belt.  The viewer stands both inside and outside of  the aircraft and the earthly plane that passes endlessly underneath and is forced to ask unanswerable questions about which is really moving.  The work he created for Zero1 has this same “view-from-outer-space”, nearly imperceptible yet inexorably-turning image, as seen in the video projection from the view of an aircraft.  The earthly forms that are being observed from above by the camera are arranged on a slowly rotating turntable that is installed in the Thompson Gallery at San Jose State.  The projection appears on a wall diagonally across the gallery.  Palma selected objects of a widely varying scale — superwoman and astronaut dolls, an architect’s tree and building models,  a large bird cage, orbiting dowles — from thrift stores and miscellaneous sources to make up this Google-earth view of the inhabited terra firma.  Is it San Jose and Silicon Valley?  Rather than specifically representing the area as an advanced region of electronic and digital innovation, it spoke to me about upheaval, perhaps a metaphoricalical earthquake. or a social or ecological shift.

The waves that wash one direction and then back. inside Palma’s homage to Katrina victims are peaceful, controlled, hypnotic, perhaps deceiving.

At the same time that Palma’s art is subtle and understated, the work can take on a grand scale and project a deep compassion for issues bigger than his boyish obsessions.  Palma returned to water as a vehicle for his homage to the people of New Orleans who suffered through Hurricane Katrina.  Using a WWI beach landing craft, such as might have taken the troops ashore at Normandy, he clad it in metal to seal the hull form, and inside created an unending series of precisely formed waves that move one direction and then the other in a meditative, if not hypnotic, rhythm.  At the same time that the artist revisits that which is outside appearing inside, the giant red ark-like vessel speaks to the ongoing vigil that residents of the shoreline must maintain to survive the oceans’ occasional fury.

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