August 05, 2009
The End. And...at Frederico Sève Gallery/latincollector
A group show combines multiple authors and media in considering the inherent subjectivity of documentary form.
By GAYATHRI IYER - The two rooms of Frederico Sève Gallery/latincollector are filled with multimedia works, all with a story to tell. Departing from “tell it like it is” methods used in traditional nonfiction art, the subjective documentary pieces in “The End. And…,” proudly reveal their own modes of production and search for a less literal or definitive truth. The show features installations, performance, photography, podcast, video, and film, combining multiple authors and media to consider the inherent subjectivity of documentary form.
Michelle Heinz, collaborative curator along with Leo Kuelbs and Angela Freiberger, aims for the show to discuss what she calls ideas of perpetual motion. “One story begets another, and it doesn’t seem that any of the artists is fully convinced about truth,” says Heinz of the artists’ work.
Using traditions of political documentary along with more experimental techniques, Carlos Motta’s Memory of a Protest (2007) contributes work in line with his current P.S.1 solo show “Brief History” (2005-2009). The Colombian-born, New York-based artist offers footage of a protest organized by a human rights organization in Santiago, Chile against a U.S.-based military school, The School of the Americas. The protest scenes pair with an image of a shadowy figure on a bridge and a voiceover that describes the brutality of American foreign policy. Motta’s work is an affecting example of modern political documentary, with his “memory” of the protest a direct capture of the event combined with his authorial voice.
Within earshot of Motta’s stark political voice is Honey Money (2006), a documentary of a performance by Suely Farhi wherein she rinses, presses, and stamps the title of her piece on dollar bills given to her by viewers. The camera captures the audience’s uncertain reaction to the literal money laundering, as they watch their own cash handled in an elaborate process that yields little more than empty truth.
Alex Villar’s video Overtime (2004) also comments on capitalist practice with a look at the corporate workplace. In an empty, fluorescent-lit office, among cubicles, filing cabinets, rolling chairs, and conference tables, Villar poses in the fetal position, seated, stretching, rolling, or bobbing rhythmically. The steady shots of the familiar office setting engage the viewer meditatively in what Heinz calls a “documentary of surveillance,” into the subconscious fantasy of the worker and the true inertness of a space associated with productivity.
The show’s most dynamic example of subjective documentary is Elly Clarke’s multifaceted Moscow to Beijing (2005-2006) project, which records the lives of people traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In one component, Clarke gives one passenger per day a camera to capture an image that represents their journey. Clarke’s curatorial background factors favorably in her choice to also produce Comments from the Carriage, which documents her own conversations with travelers, and Translations, which features her language translator looking at the footage we see in the adjacent Comments video. The rich personal photos from disposable cameras de-emphasize artistic quality in production and instead interact with the videos to provide a “real experience” of the journey with diverse passengers as authors. Her varied modes of display both fortify and unmask the process of truth-telling.
“A lot of the work in the show deals with issues of authorship, and the experience of a cacophony of multiple authors,” says Heinz, “This kind of subjectivity has not been relevant to speak about as documentary for much of the last one hundred years.”
The works in the aptly-named “The End. And…” are open-ended in the process of truth-seeking, and are clearly part of a broadly defined new genre of documentary art. They are both relevant and familiar in an era of instant image exchange via mobile devices, and “reality” television that challenges the traditional authority of the documentary voice. These works “look at the dichotomy of fact and fiction,” according to Heinz, and ponder the future of those blurring lines. Gayathri Iyer. Gayathri is a Midwesterner and a South Asian pop culture fan with a south Brooklyn zip. Currently an Educator at the Museum of the Moving Image, Gayathri has also hung hats at Women Make Movies, the Jacob Burns Film Center, the Sundance Film Festival, and The Onion. A sometime filmmaker and wordsmith, Gayathri primarily enjoys snacks.