Thrill ride: Henderson steps right up

Still from Aaron Henderson's video sculpture, "Feuerball."
Still from Aaron Henderson's video sculpture, "Feuerball."

Tell me, how are you feeling about winter? Are you pining for days of flip-flops and shorts? Yes? Then put down this paper–- no, wait, after you've read the next few paragraphs–- and head to Ruffin Gallery to soak up the virtual summer of Aaron Henderson's video installation, "Midway."

A visiting UVA art faculty member, Henderson spent last summer visiting fairs in Indiana and South Carolina to explore people's behaviors on carnival rides. He mounted video cameras in strategic places on the rides themselves, so he could record intentional and unintentional gestures and expressions as riders dipped, flipped, and whirled.

This fascinating footage forms the core of Henderson's "Midway," which not only reveals the myriad ways people act and interact on rides, including performing impromptu group choreography (throw your hands in the air like you just don't care!) but also creates a "you are there" experience for gallery-goers. He has transformed Ruffin into a black-box theater, where he offers three separate "rides" with soundtracks composed by music prof Ted Coffey.

In one corner, "Gravitron" slides across two large screens in a four-minute loop. Although the piece suggests a wide-angle shot of the ride as it rotates, the video is, in fact, a series of vertical vignettes, each focused on a three-passenger set of blue vinyl seats that rise and fall. Henderson has stitched these separate scenes together in surprisingly poetic ways, as Coffey's soundtrack provides futuristic buzzes and chirps

Nearby "Feuerball" invites the viewer to stand in the middle of four video screens attached to a claw suspended from the ceiling, which echoes the physical structure of the actual carnival ride. Shots of purple-harnessed passengers flash by, their legs dangling and kicking, as the ride dips to the ground and swings toward the sky, creating a background like an abstract painting.

Henderson's piece de resistance, though, is "Pharoah's Fury," a life-size video of a multi-passenger gondola that appears to swing like a pendulum from one side of the gallery to the other, creating the illusion that it's passing beneath the concrete floor. With each rise and fall, the riders change. Sometimes the boat is full and rowdy; other times it's nearly empty. Full of whoops and screams, Coffey's ambient soundtrack adds to the thrill.

Each of Henderson's exhilarating pieces offer delicious, small revelations-a girl clinging to her father, a teenager relentlessly texting, a rider in a skeleton costume-that combine to make "Midway" big art fun!

Aaron Henderson's video installation, "Midway," is on view through February 19 at UVA's Ruffin Gallery in Ruffin Hall, 179 Culbreth Road. Henderson will discuss his work in a public lecture on February 17 in Campbell Hall, Room 160. 924 6123.

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1 comment

ooh, this sounds like a must see!