Cities are often metaphorized as living things: Their streets and thoroughfares are veins and arteries, their pulsing centers, hearts. Of course, their citizens are responsible for their animation, but somehow the most impressive metropolises suggest that as environments, they have nearly outpaced such human dimensions. Instead, they seem to take on a life of their own, growing and mutating like some viral strain. This latter vision of the city dominates INFINITUS, TJ Norris' new immersive video installation of "a seamless, endless city" at New American Art Union, and the final installment in his Tribryd series, which began in 2003. Here, Norris continues to mine the readymade imagery of the city, from the clean lines of urban architecture to the erratic, bubbling forms of graffiti. And as ever, he does not labor to decode or even interpret what he finds, but is simply seduced by their surfaces.
Entering the exhibit, one passes through a heavy black curtain into a dark room, where a black-and-white, two-channel video is projected on the ceiling. The room itself is filled with five divan-sized viewing beds, where visitors can recline as Norris' video unfolds above them. The video itself oscillates between representation (lampposts, a helix spiral of razor wire) and abstraction (fuzzy-edged lights blink like champagne bubbles), and is accompanied by French composer Christian Renou's score, which marries Angelo Badalamenti's maudlin synth-scapes to experimental electronics. At first, the experience—the shuffling imagery, the jarringly unpredictable soundtrack—mimics the sensory overload of street life, but, the longer one stays in the gallery, the cacophony of sight and sound gradually recedes. It soon becomes a relaxing, tranquil experience, in which the stimuli wane to an even and forgettable background noise—not unlike the ubiquitous honking horns and shouts of city streets.
As Norris situates his viewers flat on their backs, he subconsciously prods them to compare the experience of city life to similarly positioned activities. Most obviously, it conjures movie-going or the less literal cinema of dreaming. For Norris, urban living is akin to the stylized magic—and disorienting fragmentation—of images scrolling across a screen, a version of interpretation and narrative construction that is, by now, second nature. So even in Norris' un-navigable city, we still feel at home.