Art Review: Video and large-scale prints by Kurt Piazza at HCC Ybor are utterly engrossing


Bled of color (with one vivid exception), the black-and-white works take their cue from some ruminations on the nature of photographic reproduction by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. The concept, Piazza says, goes something like this: because a photograph of you has the potential to survive and be reproduced long after your earthly existence, the image anticipates your death through its existence in the present. (Think about it. While Derrida was cogitating philosophically, his point has been eerily borne out in practical terms by growing concern over what happens to undead Facebook profiles and other cyber-presences after their owners’ demise.)

Last year, an exhibition called Haunted at the Guggenheim Museum in New York focused on the relationship between photographic art, trauma and time. Piazza saw the show and was inspired to turn his exhibition at HCC into a kind of reply.

In the same ghostly spirit as Derrida’s comments, Piazza’s images suggest nebulous memories (or, perhaps, fuzzy visions of the future) disconnected from their original observer and floating free through the universe as bites and bytes. As a viewer, you’re given the absorbing task of tuning into this otherworldly transmission and deciding what to do with it. On the one hand, you could try deciphering the images — and you might recognize footage from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Piazza has remixed into a three-minute piece that alternately evokes a voyage down an interminable corridor and a kaleidoscope of ink plumes. Or you might see an image of Tampa’s shipyards in another video, but so oversaturated with day-glo color that the industrial landscape looks like a post-apocalyptic Impressionist painting on acid.On the other hand, you could relinquish the urge to figure out Piazza’s images and give into their aesthetic ambiguities. I hestitate to tell you that the architectural ruin that appears in his large-scale prints is an aborted condo on Miami Beach, because the works are hardly documents. Instead, what’s interesting about them is the way in which Piazza has stripped his original digital photos of gradations in contrast and resolution to reveal the ghost of a building in black and white. Printed out with a deliberate lack of preciousness (evidenced by the occasional and oddly beautiful toner smear), the mammoth six-by-eight-foot images feel more like paintings than digital images — perhaps unsurprisingly since Piazza, an alum of both HCC and USF, began his education as a painter before moving to electronic media.

THE FUTURE BELONGS TO GHOSTS from Kurt Piazza on Vimeo.

Behind the cerebral influences of Derrida and the Guggenheim exhibition, there’s a more personal source for the drive to explore memory and presence that fuels the show, Piazza says: his father’s death in 2006, an event he continues to process through his artwork. The absorptive quality of his videos and prints may owe something more to that feeling — an ineffable melancholy and preoccupation with the otherworldly — than to their conceptual grounding. I like to think that’s why the audience at Piazza’s reception was riveted to his videos, and that Derrida and the rest is supplemental compared with sitting in front the blinking light of a projected video and soaking it in.

After all, says Piazza, “Video is a way for me to express the purest kind of emotion."

REMEMBRANCE from Kurt Piazza on Vimeo.

Because the attention of art audiences seems harder than ever to capture these days, I was surprised when I showed up last week at Kurt Piazza’s solo exhibit at HCC Ybor to see a room full of mostly college students (the generation most often accused of having a kind of cultural ADHD) utterly engrossed in the artist’s videos. The darkened gallery was so quiet — even though the occasion was the exhibition’s opening reception — that I found myself whispering to other people out of respect for the rapt, silent viewers.

The reason for their silence may have been that they were trying to figure out what they were seeing. The title of Piazza’s show, The Future Belongs to Ghosts, references an idea that inspired the five videos and five large-scale prints in the exhibition. All of these works are haunted, if you will, by spectral images. In Piazza’s prints, the black silhouettes of decomposing architectural forms appear and reappear. In his videos, footage distorted with visual effects hints at a forgotten landscape one moment, then dissolves into a series of rhythmic patterns the next.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.