"Medium Cool"

Jonathan Kinkley

Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s
description of TV as a “cool” medium—one
that requires significant amounts of viewer inter-
pretation or participation—inspired this show’s
title, but it’s something of a red herring. Joy
Episalla and Michael Antkowiak’s primary theme
is the media’s erosion of human relationships,
manifested in the loneliness of an empty hotel
room or the alienation of a webcam feed.

Episalla’s grainy, close-up photos of reflections in
the screens of switched-off TVs reveal hotel-room
interiors across the U.S. and Europe. No people
are visible, but unmade beds bathed in morning
light identify the rooms as extremely private spaces.The viewer wonders, Who was staying here? Was
there a sexual encounter? The unplugged TV—a monolithic one-eyed box—becomes an unsettling, intrusive presence.

Exhibitionism dominates Antkowiak’s paintings of webcam stills, which depict women undressing in various interiors. The women’s central, eroticized positions suggest they know they’re directly in the webcam’s line of sight. Yet Antkowiak denies the viewer-voyeur sexual gratification by abstracting his subjects with broad brushstrokes. Instead of revealing the exhibitionists’ nude bodies, he lays bare the impersonality of Internet liaisons.

Contemporary media have an unprecedented ability to connect people as well as alienate them. This makes Episalla and Antkowiak’s familiar critiques less compelling than their skillful use of voyeurism, which results in two strong and cohesive bodies of work.

April 1, 2008

Art & Design

Carrie Secrist Gallery, through Apr 12.

Joy Episalla, tv #7 (Houston), 2006