Time/Space/Place Sep 15, 2012

by Dayna Hanson

My introduction to Christian Rizzo’s aesthetic was b.c, janvier 1545, Fontainebleau (On the Boards, 2010). In that work he offered an environment that, while decidedly performative—with dancer Julie Guilbert commanding the audience’s attention like a duchess—led viewers into a conceptual art state of mind. Many artists hope to blend performance and installation but not all can deliver a kinesthetic punch, the arc of a time-based experience and a persuasive visual place all at once. Rizzo can.

In Neo-fiction, place is pre-eminent. And I'm curious how other audiences will experience the places that play leading roles in the work that Rizzo just spent five weeks creating with filmmaker Sophie Laly and cellist Lori Goldston in and around Seattle. For us—at least for me—the landscapes that loom on two screens upstage are so familiar they're almost kind of worn: Discovery Park, LaPush, Mt. Rainier. On a narrow screen stage left an overcast road (Highway 101?) elapses endlessly in backward footage, in constant speed. Maybe these environments seem more surprising to those who don't know them. Or maybe that doesn't matter.

Impressionistically shot and deftly edited on two frames, the unglorified landscapes break out now and then in brief visual poems—a kite strains in a corner of sky, seagulls rise and fall in haphazard formation—as Rizzo builds corresponding live events, repeating a phrase of floor work or placing objects on the neutral mat onstage. Synesthetic light cues flash, color changes mood. Within the unhurried pace of Neo-fiction, these minute events don't exactly provide drama, but they do punctuate time subtly. In one striking non-event, a frame of video freezes and so do Rizzo and Goldston, watching the still image in unison stillness.

In the course of a shy hour the piece moves from poetic to, I guess, neo-narrative as the mossy Pacific Northwest forest gives up a homely figure, by turns inert and trudging. Though doubled and even briefly, stirringly tripled onstage by Rizzo and Laly, the figure remains semi-animate. If there is a suggestion of human story in this meditative work, it may have to do with a futile striving for transcendence.

Or not. A work such as Neo-fiction leaves plenty of smartly composed space for individual experience. And if it lacks an overt dramatic arc, the piece shows absolute fluency by all parties—Rizzo, Laly and the mesmerizing Goldston, who plucks and bows her amplified cello the entire time (except during that pause). As they stand backlit in a stunning final image, the pleasure these artists derive from working together is immediate and gratifying.