So you know that scene in that crime drama TV show when one character hands another character a photograph? It’s a snapshot of a suspect or perhaps the victim in a compromising position. But you don’t get to see the photo, you only see the expression on the characters’ faces as they look at it. Or maybe it’s that scene in that movie where the guys open a briefcase, the contents of which are obviously very important but remain a mystery, and all we see is the reflection of golden light off the actors’ faces as they gaze into the briefcase in wonder. Well, it’s like that.
Daniel Baird’s video piece, “And Ever,” images a crowd of people looking up at the sky in awe. The tape is clearly found footage, as the characters’ fashions are obviously dated, 1980’s. We observe the group, standing on risers, watching a spectacle up above them. Their expressions are of reverence and giddy excitement as the camera pans through the masses, from one face to another in groups of 5-6 people at a time, a boyscout troop, an older couple. Something big and amazing is happening.
And then as they wait, eyes to the sky in anticipation, the emotions on their faces transform gradually into concern and confusion. Yes, something big is happening here, but it isn’t what we expected to occur. People cry and cover their mouths, or they look away, some collapse in despair. Something big happened indeed. And finally the crowd begins to disperse, some in bewilderment, some in tears, some evidently just speechless.
We never catch a glimpse of the disaster itself, only the players’ reactions to it. Though this viewer certainly has a hunch about the nature of the tragedy (the Challenger explosion, maybe?), it remains a subtlety. The real action is the human drama. The spectacle of the unknown catastrophe becomes the spectacle of the varied human responses to it. We empathize with these affectations, even to the point of wondering how we might perform in such a situation. What’s a normal human reaction to tragedy?
Baird really nailed it with this piece, showing at Hungryman Gallery in Chicago among the delights of the exhibition, “Ruins,” on view through October 23. Check out some of Baird’s other video works, including the Endymion pieces, as well as his installation work. They are accompanied in the show by the paintings of Russell Leng.
Additionally, Baird is featured in upcoming exhibitions in Maastricht, Netherlands; Missoula, Montana; and Chicago. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from this up-and-comer.