Catherine Borg

Las Vegas

at Contemporary Arts Center


Much art out of Las Vegas is about Las Vegas, reflecting, perhaps, the challenge of adapting as a permanent resident to a place built for transients. The city’s remorseless self-destruction and relentless rebuilding is the subject of an untitled exhibition of recent work by Catherine Borg, a Bay Area native who arrived in Las Vegas in 2004 after five years in New York.

Three videos at the core of the show are strong and concise conceptual statements. The most ambitious, ADVENTURE NON-FICTION: Tracking the Void (2007), is a silent three-channel projection that fills the spectator’s field of vision with footage of three terrains: the Strip, the abandoned and tattered Queen of Hearts Casino and a long-shuttered zigguratlike structure that was once a “locals’ casino” known as the Aztec. Filmed from a car at night, Borg’s slow tracking shots are elegiac but restrained. The slick and densely populated Strip is the essence of carefree pre-recession glamour; high-end boutiques and faux Italian architecture long ago replaced the neon for which the city is known. But the other settings represent a Vegas tourists don’t seek out: the ruined monuments to failed enterprise that are familiar to its residents. The human cost of the Vegas experience is illuminated through the odd spectacle of fantasy architecture that now accommodates only squatters.

While Borg’s work unquestionably involves social critique, it is left to the viewer to elaborate. Self-Tending (2008), a stop-motion animation of a pyramidal structure evocative of the Aztec that is created from clear blocks and then disassembled, explores the theme of tearing down and building up. A third video, I only have stars for you; you only hold stars for me (2007), again represents the city’s shockingly rapid cycle of ruin and rebirth. It features the 2006 implosion of the famous Stardust Hotel on one side of a split-screen projection, and on the other an unsure-looking man holding a string of black balloons, the still-operational Stardust in the background. The voices of drunken revelers who gathered to watch the Stardust’s demise fill the soundtrack.

A final video—a collaboration with the New York-based artist Amy Yoes—uses fragmented shots of the city’s bizarre features, which become truly surreal when taken out of context. Drawings traced from Borg’s photographs of the city’s dilapidated margins complement the videos, as do photographs, presented in small lightboxes, of neon stars isolated from old motel signs. The city, in Borg’s treatment, conjures Robert Smithson’s “ruins in reverse . . . the opposite of the ‘romantic ruin’ because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built.” Borg portrays Las Vegas from the perspective of a local—a longtime observer of the perpetually ephemeral