By Javier Burdette
Kerry Tribe’s H.M. is the latest exhibit occupying the Contemporary Arts Center Gallery (CAC), located in UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts. Curated by Juli Carson, the CAC gallery held an opening reception for Tribe’s works on Saturday, Jan. 9th, where they will continue to be displayed until March 12.
The centerpiece and titular work of the exhibition is the film H.M. — a small glimpse into the life of a real-life amnesiac known to the world simply by his eponymous initials.
At the age of seven, Henry Gustav Molaison was involved in a bicycle accident. Following the accident, Henry began having seizures, which worsened after his sixteenth birthday. His condition was labeled epilepsy.
In 1953, Henry underwent a bilateral medial temporal lobe resection, which involved the removal of his brain tissue — the hippocampi to be specific. After his operation, Henry developed severe anterograde amnesia and moderate retrograde amnesia.
Not only was it impossible for Henry, patient H.M., to create new memories, he also lost some memories from his past completely. In short, anything that occurred to Henry between 1953 and his death in 2008 was completely lost upon him.
Tribe’s presentation of the film mimics Henry’s strange condition. H.M. was shot on 16 millimeter film. The entire work is on a single strip. It travels between two projectors. This is manifested to the audience as a 20-second delay between two projections.
While Henry’s story continues without pause on the left projection, the events of 20 seconds ago are displayed on the right, with muted sound.
Experiencing the work is both highly immersive, and truly alien. The images themselves are a little grainy. Deep blues and warm gold lighting saturate the frames. Each clip fades to black in an episodic manner reminiscent of Homer’s epics. There is something about the subject matter’s discomforting realism, the contrasting visuals, and the subtle audio distortion which invokes the emptiness of a vast expanse and leaves the viewer feeling quite melancholy.
The loop, which lasts for only 18 minutes and 30 seconds, makes for art that raises questions about our own cognizance and understanding of reality, while also tackling serious mental health concerns in a thoughtful and creative way.
Aside from H.M., there are several more examples of Tribe’s work on display — including meticulously geometric illustrations on black backgrounds like the animations that appear in the film, works that imitate the crossword puzzles H.M. was proficient at and another looped video titled “The Procedure.”
“The Procedure” is surreal in a sense distinguished from the main event. It shows an elderly man meticulously setting an elegant table with his family standing in the background, only to attempt to pull the tablecloth off, resulting in the destruction of his work. While thematically different, it follows in the same style as H.M. in trying to unsettle and challenge the audience.
Film enthusiasts and brain scholars alike may find value in Tribe’s unique insight and creative techniques. H.M. is a bold and ambitious leap into the workings of time and memory, and is worth visiting both for its originality and powerful imagery.