The Apocalypse versus stupid human tricks

Paul Chan, Adel Abdessemed, and Andrew Neumann
By GREG COOK  |  December 12, 2008

PRACTICE ZERO TOLERANCE (RETOURNÉE) Abdessemed's sculpture is cast from a relic of the
2005 Paris suburb riots, but it also suggests the wreckage of a car bomb.

“Paul Chan: Three Easy Pieces” | Carpenter Center, Harvard, 24 Quincy St, Cambridge | Through January 4

“Adel Abdessemed: Situation and Practice” | MIT List Visual Arts Center, 20 Ames St, Cambridge | Through January 4

“Andrew Neumann: The Last Picture Show” | Axiom, 141 Green St, Boston | Through December 13
Among the most poetic and moving artwork to come out of 9/11 is Paul Chan's series of videos The 7 Lights . Most other major works addressing the attacks are documentary — Joel Meyerowitz's photos of the wreckage at Ground Zero, Paul Greengrass's 2006 film re-enactment United 93. But Chan's videos, which he began making in 2005, distill the feeling and the meaning of that day into charged symbolic elegies. And they've propelled him to art stardom — a solo survey at New York's New Museum, major profiles in the New Yorker and the New York Times.

"Three Easy Pieces" at Harvard's Carpenter Center offers one of his 9/11 pieces plus two other videos about war. 5th Light, a triangle of light projected onto the floor, seems like sun from a window. Shadows of leafy branches, wiggling wires, chunks of who knows what drift across the floor toward the gallery wall. Then a shock as a body plummets from the sky. Then more people fall. It brings to mind, of course, the people who threw themselves from the burning World Trade Center towers.

A coat rack, a key, a suitcase, pistols, and rifles slowly glide skyward. With 9/11 in mind, you might find that the failure of gravity suggests the Christian Rapture, the end of the world, the Apocalypse. Which in turn points to the religious fundamentalism that fueled the terrorists, as well as our American response. The floating things break into pieces and continue upward. More bodies fall. Big blurry things woosh down in the foreground. It's jarring. And heartbreaking.

The other two videos can't match its power. Chan shot Baghdad in No Particular Order (2003) while visiting Iraq with a group of anti-war activists a few months before the US invasion in March 2003. It shows footage shot from a vehicle driving through the desert countryside, men in a café, girls dancing in a living room, a sleeping monkey, men singing in a mosque, a wedding party, uniformed women with rifles chanting, "With blood and soul, we sacrifice for you, Saddam." But 51 minutes of rambling random snippets grows tedious.

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Related: Tedium and enchantment, Slideshow: ''Say You Love Me'' at Harvard's Carpenter Center; ''Hungry for Death: Destroy All Monsters'' at BU Art Gallery, Scavenged sculpture and Dead Sea scrolls: 10 heady spring exhibits blooming in New England galleries, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Terrorism,  More more >
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