Art Bytes

How to Understand the Pioneering Work of Trisha Baga, the New Face of Video Art

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How to Understand the Pioneering Work of Trisha Baga, the New Face of Video Art
Installation shot of "The Biggest Circle," the video artist Trisha Baga's 2012 solo show at Greene Naftali.

Without question, 2012 was a big year for the Bushwick-based video artist Trisha Baga: in addition to a solo show at Chelsea’s Greene Naftali gallery, she received a solo show in the Whitney's lobby gallery as well as in a group show at MoMA PS1—not too shabby for a 28-year-old artist then only two years out of her Bard MFA program. Three years later, Baga is gearing up for her second solo show at Greene Naftali (set to run September 3rd to October 4th), and we’re getting excited for what’s to come. Here, to provide a primer for newcomers to her work (and to whet the appetites of her devoted fans), is a survey of her key videos from over the past several years, starting with her celebrated work Plymouth Rock, originally shown in her 2012 exhibition at Vilma Gold. 

Calling Baga a video artist isn’t quite adequate—while videos are undoubtedly the focal point of her installations, they’re filtered through or projected upon a rotating cast of objects that can be tentatively called “studio detritus.” Food items like pizza boxes, takeout menus, and water bottles are particular favorites, as are sequined or otherwise reflective items. (The description for her 2011 piece Madonna y El Niño indicates that the piece is “best viewed projected in a completely dark room, onto a disco ball on the floor in the lower left hand corner.”) Baga collects these items in her studio, arranging them intuitively in situ for her installations. The videos you see here are therefore only one part of a larger story.

Baga’s penchant for layering is even more evident in the videos themselves. In addition to her extensive use of red and cyan 3D (an old but surprisingly underutilized technique, at least in the realm of video art), the artist also uses the capacities of her digital editing software to stack scenes one on top of another. Often shapes will remain onscreen for several shots only to fade away; sometimes, a shadowy figure seems to cross in front of the projector. Seen in the context of the installation and with 3D glasses on, the effect is a room full of intersecting objects, each encounter unfolding at its own pace. 

While viewing the videos, the function of these non-diegetic inclusions range from the collaged or green screen effect common in much contemporary video art to more subtle interplays of images that work more like movie soundtracks, adding a certain mood or atmosphere without distracting from the central scene. A good example of this layering technique comes in her 2014 piece STROMBOLI, produced in collaboration with fellow video artist Jessie Stead in conjunction with the Fiorucci Art Trust during a stay on the volcanic island of Stromboli, Italy. 

Despite her idiosyncratic installation strategies and decidedly disjointed approach to narrative, Baga’s videos don’t shy away from their cinematic roots. She has an affection for pleasantly grandiose film tropes; her pieces often start with the kind of mildly navel-gazing voiceover introduction common to Oscar-bait dramas, and she employs the much-loved soundtracks of films like Requiem for a Dream and Harry Potter as background music alongside pop offerings from figures like Madonna, a perennial favorite. 

It’s easy to chalk up these inclusions (as well as the readymades of her installations) as mere appropriation, but in the context of the videos they hardly stick out as outside influences. Rather, in the true spirit of the copy-and-paste grab bag of digital culture, they operate more like the preprogrammed editing effects she uses throughout her videos: recognizable as themselves and perhaps “unoriginal” as a result, but nevertheless valuable and viable tools for a Post-Internet creator.

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