A Clarifying Study: “Bastion” by Alexander Ugay

Black and white photographs, textured filters, slow-moving figures, a fluffy white dog on a beach, and what looks like a giant floating roller coaster.

Like many video art pieces in the Gallery’s current exhibition, PROJECT 35, Volume 2, Alexander Ugay’s Bastion, draws incredible depth across multiple psychological layers, within a mere five minutes. Ugay is an Central Asian artist, currently residing in Khazakistan, who uses cameras manufactured in the early Soviet Union and manual processing and film editing to produce eerie, intricate videos: a style often titled “New Romanticism” due to its nostalgic themes and references of Soviet avant-garde cinema.

The majority of the video depicts a bright beach setting with images of family and leisure that blend into each other, seeming to ebb and flow with the sound of the ocean. Figures walk down the beach, converse, and play music, always looking towards the sea. The lethargy of the scenes, the absence of color, and the disregard to details, even facial expressions, comprise an intimidating reflection of how we form memories, what we remember, and the key elements of reality that even our most fond moments lack. The viewer sees flashes that seem to capture a beautiful family outing. Yet, all is left is a literally ‘filtered’ understanding of the scene. Only one audio “channel” from the day lasts, the sound of the tide, not the voices or the music heard that day. Only value, not hue: the color of the beaches, the flora, the blue that made the sea and the blue that may have made the sky.

The climax of the video is the noisy, pained entrance of a giant metal tangle, floating atop the ocean towards its own form of wreckage on the shore. The looming structure is Ugay’s depiction of Tatlin’s Tower– a historic symbol of victory from the birth of the USSR– made from a collage of Hi-8 video and 3-D architectural models.

The physical interruption of the joyful family outing by this structure further reveals the transcendent quality of memories, and in particular, the tendency of the mind to be entrenched in certain symbols, many from cultural influences, that have personal significance, or affected a change in the individual.

In this light, Bastion sympathizes with every viewer, speaking to a universal desire of synthesis and preservation of perceived sensory information. Inevitably, our perceptions, as incomplete to reality as they may be, are embedded with emotional meaning that serves to form an even deeper portrayal of the occurrences that encompass our lives.

PROJECT 35, VOLUME 2 will be exhibited until mid-December.

Grace DeWitt


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