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Flux's latest video series soothes gross animals, drunk girls and 'Avatar'-withdrawal victims

September 16, 2010 |  1:45 pm

At least two gnarly creatures met grim ends last night during the Flux video series, a showcase of new and new-ish short films, music videos and performance pieces at the Hammer Museum. But they nonetheless earned a good bit of sympathy and care from their audience.

In Yeasayer's mock-luminous clip for "Madder Red," directed by Andreas Nilsson, Kristen Bell lovingly attends to an exquisitely grotesque blob that recalls a basketball-sized wad of chewing gum with a chicken jeg jammed in its side. Unfortunately (spoiler alert!), it contracts a terrible nosebleed and dies on the veterinarian's operating table before ascending to heaven. The featherless vulture-beast in Tom Kuntz's clip for MGMT's "Congratulations" meets no more dignified a fate, as pieces of its distended body fall off as it strolls with the quite-concerned neo-psych duo across a bleak desert landscape. 

In a way, music video directors are performing a similarly caretaking service to the wounded artists they're documenting. Video budgets have been massacred in the great major label bloodletting, and MTV is now primarily a day-long bloc of orange-colored people screaming at each other. But never before have such strange, young artists had access to the kind of production and directorial and distribution muscle on display at Flux.

First, though, a love note to Miwa Matreyek and her dazzling, baffling video-performance work. Atop an ethereal backdrop of light pinpricks, 3-D witchcraft and deep-space color washes, she performed a  minimalist dance routine that perfectly -- scarily -- interlocked with the footage in a way that blew away the idea of the fourth wall of the stage. The advent of 3-D in live performance is slowly percolating, and she will be at it its vanguard in the years to come.

Many of the other videos also offered other, fantastical possible worlds where decay and rebirth come quickly. Anthony Francisco Schepperd's vintage-animated clip for Blockhead's "The Music Scene" felt torn off a decayed VHS promising the most immersive psychedelic experience possible that didn't involve trawling fields for mushrooms. The kinetics of it felt relentless -- flowers bloomed into wasted machinery, which dripped into beatific interstellar passageways, which led back to a ruined sort of blacklight Eden.

Daniels' unnerving take on the Hundred in the Hands (whose self-titled album is one of the smartest electronica-rock crossovers of the year) single "Pigeons" follows a young girl through a New York house party where she vomits light beams and gains a Linda Blair-esque knack for staggering around in anatomically impossible positions. It went a touch overboard on the visual conceit, but the clip cemented the young duo's idiosyncratic vision for merging the body and technology.

On an opposite bent, the directing collective Skinny (full disclosure -- I know them socially) inverted Ryan McGinley's tableau of gorgeous, oft-naked young people in sylvan locales to lend a wan breakup vibe to Cee-Lo's cover of Band of Horses' "No One's Going to Love You." It seemed like a curious visual pairing for a soul-centric artist, but it served both sides ably -- Cee-Lo's artier pretensions were bolstered by the magic-hour atmosphere, and Skinny's ethereal tendencies were grounded by Cee-Lo's massive voice.

Shorts for Amon Tobin and El-P each mined urban paranoia in the videos, but subverted the bad vibes with unexpected gestures of kindness at their close. And Everynone's nostalgia-tinged, disarmingly kind montage "Words" played a sly visual free-association game that felt sweet, effortless and earned in a way that scriptless shorts so rarely achieve. 

-- August Brown