McCracken & Bitterman
Savage Gallery, 416 NW 10th 223-2868
Through Sept 8

On my way to Savage Gallery, I witnessed a nasty bicycle crash. A rider and bike collapsed in a dramatic heap, after an ugly encounter with a pothole. Though it only lasted a few seconds, the event was recorded in my mind in slow-motion detail. The timing of this experience proved poetic: I left the accident scene and stepped into a gallery installation by Pete McCracken and Jeremy Bittermann, which was a perfect continuation of the surreal episode. The duo's work explores the notion that a significant event can occur in a matter of seconds, and that the impact of a such may not be fully realized right away.

McCracken, the principle designer for Plazm Media, partners up with fellow PNCA graduate Jeremy Bittermann to create a unique installation. The two artists have transformed Savage's large back room into a multi-sensory environment, which relies on audio and visual components that work together in fantastic harmony. A veil of white, gauze-like fabric isolates the space and seals in the musty smell intrinsic to an old building. Narrow, white shelves line the perimeter of the room. They display a row of identical objects: McCracken and Bittermann appropriated the tops from the flashing, caution lights found at construction sites.

Painted a dark color, these electrical bases take on a different form--they look like old-fashioned radios. The duo also replaced the round, orange bulbs with plastic, electric candles. The darkened space lights up with the timed flashing of these sleek, white bulbs, creating a sort of chaotic, psychedelic Christmas-light display. Also, the shadows that form resemble a Ziggurat shape, thus providing a vague sense of spirituality. The flickering lights induce a hypnotic state, which is further accentuated by installation elements. Above each light box is a small text panel offering mysterious tidbits like "free drink," "missed bus," "child's death," and "forest fire."

Each phrase represents an event that materializes in seconds, just like the cyclist catching the pothole in the street. Meshing all these elements together is a well-crafted and compelling soundtrack. An evolving symphony surrounds the viewer, oscillating between delicate and foreboding, The installation is effective, for it alters the space with sheer economy. It is a refreshing change from the stereotypical installation that relies on an abundance of objects to create an "environment." And oddly, McCracken and Bittermann have created a cinematic experience without providing images; propelled by the flashing lights, the viewer creates his or her own epic while reading the text fragments. The viewer's mind constructs individual film cells to represent "child's death" and "forest fire." In the end, the entire scene unfolds to describe the unpredictable nature of life.