MOST INTERESTING Av. Libertador, directed by Alexander Apóstol.
Having screened the first of this series back in June, it's good to see evidence that SPACE Gallery plans to show the whole "Project 35" collection. Given the oblique nature of video art, one never knows. While it can give a unique voice to artists on a massive, lossless scale, it's also usually true that good video art can be especially challenging. At eight dense conceptual films in just under two hours, viewers might find this series tricky, especially if they're unwilling to give them their full attention.
A good number of these films are slow-moving and rather lengthy for an audience browsing galleries, and one of the two that aren't simply isn't very interesting. The one that is — Av. Libertador, a four-and-a-half-minute piece by Alexander Apóstol (2006) — is the quickest, cleanest payoff of the bunch, affectingly portraying a culture of Venezuelan transvestites at various perches along a busy highway.
The films are anchored by The Freedom to Question (Daniela Paes Leao, 2008), an academic and difficult 22-minute piece in the center of the program. In it, Leao poses a conceptually interesting premise — two nonprofit administrators agree to work from each other's office — but it's blotted out by several theory-driven directorial decisions. Instead of showing the subjects in their new and unfamiliar terrain, or even informing the viewer what their jobs might be like, the first ten minutes unfold in a series of slow-scrolling text messages on a black screen. The director's monotone voice identifies these as the correspondences of her subjects, which contain project-speak and heady theory for which the viewer has no footing to wade through. When, 14 minutes in, a desubjectivized text muses "not only about emptiness, but rather about 'welcoming emptiness,'" we begin to understand the conceit, and by 19:30 when another offers "used as part of the existing cultural framework, art is not much more than a floating signifier without a reference," some may feel compelled to rewind. It's a memorable film — even if only by how quickly it asks to be forgotten — but a curious subject for video, and it's unclear how well its ideas will be heard.
Ho Tzu Nyen's piece is the longest and most successful film in the collection. It unpacks an incredibly interesting cultural act made by performance artist Tang Da Wu at the Singaporean Art Fair in 1995, midway through an 11-year ban the country had imposed on "any unscripted performances in public places" (which is to say, performance art). In historical terms, Wu engaged the president of Singapore in very blurry exchange between "radical gesture and social ritual." In Tang Da Wu — The Most Radical Gesture (2005), we see a sort of staged rehearsal of a re-enactment of the event, its multiple artistic interpretations and cultural ramifications unraveled by scripted, on-set conversations between the rehearsal's director and scriptwriter. The film's meta-dimensions aren't half as difficult to comprehend visually as they are to explain, and as a result, it might be the most thought-provoking and inspiring piece here.