Jennifer Bolande’s subtly provocative film “The Composition of Decomposition,” projected on a wall at the gallery Pio Pico, presents like a 48-minute slide show: Every five seconds or so, the screen is refreshed, and one pair of side-by-side images is replaced by another.
Each image is of a partial page of the New York Times. We might see a fragment of an ad, a corner of a photograph or half of an article. The film, composed of about 400 such spreads, is a serial collage that unfurls against an instrumental score — a montage of percussive, found and synthesized sounds.
The format proposes a relationship between the paired images, and the mind scrambles for traction — responding, processing, categorizing, distilling, making sense and searching for meaning.
Truncated headlines read as found poetry. Page layouts resemble early modernist abstractions à la Mondrian. The subject of an image on one page involuntarily spars with the subject on the other. Opinion pieces level with obituaries. Editorial content and advertising become equalized as graphic elements, and their messages mix. A photograph of the aftermath of a natural disaster abuts a Christmas ad. Strollers on one page face coffins on the other. Need rubs up against glut.
The unintentional blend and rhyme recall Robert Heinecken’s layered and rephotographed magazine pages of the 1960s and beyond, as well as the “House Beautiful” photomontages of Martha Rosler (1967-72). Both bodies of work exploit the proximity of ambition, devastation and desire on the mass printed page.
The succession of images is driven by chance, and that randomness makes the conceptual project all the more compelling.
Two vitrines in the show contain the raw material: stacks of the New York Times, each with a small rectangle bored through the center, to a depth of around five inches. One of them, “Image Tomb (with Skeletons)” neatly replicates an archaeological excavation: the complete page visible at the bottom of the opening shows the remains of plague victims dug up in a London cemetery.
For the film, the L.A.-based Bolande has lifted the excised pages from these papers and coupled them in the order they appeared. She has obeyed their given sequencing yet stripped them of context, scrambled their syntax. She has reduced the Times to a confetti of elusive clues.
The drive to make meaning out them, in this new form, is irrepressible, and the experience a stirring adventure.
Pio Pico, 3311 E. Pico Blvd., L.A. Through Feb. 17; closed Sundays and Mondays. (917) 929-9304, www.piopico.us
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