Masking tape: Duncan and Odell get tricky

When I walked into UVA’s Fiske-Kimball Fine Arts Library to watch Monica Duncan and Lara Odell’s video, Four-color Fire Pattern, my first thought was, “Oh, interesting— they’ve put up a still of an abstract painting between screenings.” But then I noticed subtle movement within the frame and realized the vivid orange, yellow, black and brown camouflage pattern (like a hunter’s jacket) was, in fact, part of Duncan and Odell’s piece.

I put on the provided headphones and settled into a chair as the image changed. The colors moved out of the frame, one by one, revealing a scrubby hillside of wheat-colored grass beneath an azure sky. For several seconds, that’s all there was: a hot and dry stretch of landscape, with only insects in the foreground and a slight breeze providing movement.

Abruptly, a yellow square appeared high on the hill, closely followed by a flash of orange to the right. The patches of color quickly became identifiable as two women traipsing down the hill— but just as quickly, pieces of their bodies began to disappear and re-appear. More figures spilled down the hillside, some in orange and yellow, others in brown or black, zigzagging back and forth as bits and pieces of them sliced in and out like ever-changing puzzle pieces. The scene was visually compelling but also confusing— what was going on?

Eventually, the women’s torsos assembled one by one directly in front of the camera’s lens, first orange and yellow, then brown and black, revealing a stencil overlay, which previously had blended seamlessly with the hillside. The overlay’s flame-like cutouts were the key to the illusion of fragmentation as the women walked through its pattern while descending the hill. In addition, the filmmakers built up their footage, superimposing one image on top of another to create the impression of numerous women moving at once. Now the figures’ colorful outfits, layered behind the stencil, served to create the abstract camouflage pattern I had originally encountered.

Only four and a half minutes long (watching it takes less time than reading this column), Four-color Fire Pattern works interesting magic, moving from realism to abstraction and from a monochromatic landscape to an eye-searing pattern of bright colors. Although the ambient soundtrack annoyingly blends static, insect buzzing, and wind across the microphone (de rigueur, it seems, for experimental filmmakers), the video is visually a light and tricky treat.

Monica Duncan and Lara Odell’s video, Four-color Fire Pattern, is on view through June 3 at The Niche in the Fine Arts Library, located in the University of Virignia’s Fiske-Kimball Fine Arts Library, Bayly Drive. 924-6938.