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By David Finkelstein | May 19, 2013

“Vat” is a gorgeous, hypnotic video by Van McElwee, made entirely from images of machine parts and common household items which are shown rotating in front of a black background. Not being an engineer, I couldn’t identify too many of the specific machines, but I did recognize children’s toys such as jacks, plastic spray bottles, elbow plumbing joints, and a plastic salad spinner. The objects are viewed from above and at an angle, so the full scope of their three dimensional contours is revealed by the rotation, and the images are often rendered in saturated colors. McElwee uses a video effect so that the objects leave elaborate trails as they rotate, creating complex spiraling patterns and swirls of color. The sound is a continuously shifting cluster of ghostly tones, which were recorded by playing the sound of waves through the strings of a piano.

Many of these objects are round and naturally suggest rotation, but even the square ones create elaborate symmetrical patterns when the video trails turn their motion into beautiful, mandala-like compositions. Indeed, the steady, even motion of the rotation and the overwhelming symmetry reminded me of imagery intended for meditation, but the fact that the symmetry here is created by motion thought time as well as by the three spatial dimensions makes it particularly awe-inspiring to watch. At times, different objects recall spiraling DNA, lotus flowers, the human spine, and slithering snakes. We live in a spiraling universe, and McElwee has used his considerable artistic skills to magically transform everyday objects into an entrancing visual spectacle, simultaneously calming and invigorating to watch.

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