Review: SPACE's looping video installation

Being, perceived
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  June 22, 2011

PROTEST SONG? A still from “Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave),” by Dan Halter.

As SPACE Gallery takes the summer to prepare its Annex — the adjunct gallery in the nearby former frame shop fit for smaller local exhibits and performances — its main room plays host to some very big ideas. The first volume of "Project 35," a video installation assembled by Independent Curators International that features dynamic works from 35 international artists, screens in a recursive loop until late July, representing the most compelling video-art exhibit the state has seen in a very long time.

The program's first video ("Berkeley's Island," by Israeli filmmaker Guy Ben-Ner) finds the artist bound to an island of sand in the middle of a modest kitchen. A first-person voiceover narrates his shipwrecked observations, and though it's presented as an existential venture (the title refers to 18th-century philosopher George Berkeley, famous for the dictum esse est percipi, or "to be is to be perceived"), the film also works as an allegory of the region's politics of space. As Ben-Ner succumbs to the privations of his makeshift island, we watch him assert himself in increasingly desperate ways. His genitals, for instance, become a central character in the film, seeming to develop more agency than the man attached to them. Never has a bird's-eye view of an erect penis resting atop a running washing machine carried such political undertones.

While these scenes are hilarious, a more interesting theme emerges, as frequent scenes containing the artist's real-life daughter eventually stifle the penis gags. The charming and symbolic presence of the daughter (young enough not to understand her father's ruse) plays a wonderful foil to Ben-Ner's strained narration and primal romps; innocently scooping sand and testing her father's ability to keep character while she messes with his camera mount. As a result, "Berkeley's Island" succeeds in raising thoughtful questions about the divergent loyalties and sacrifices in issues of space politics, even if that's not what Ben-Ner had originally set out to do.

Among the nine excellent works in Project 35, several are standouts, and nearly all are witty, engaging, and easily relatable; important qualities for internationally shown commentaries on social and political relations. "Topic 1: Contemporary Art," a direct address by "Chuleta" (as performed by artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz), is affectingly unsettling after four cerebral works, dealing in frank talk about identity politics and authenticity in the art world (though her character needs a bit of work). "Untitled (Zimbabwean Queen of Rave)," a three-minute music-video-style piece by Dan Halter, weaves several clips of African political rallies, protests, and riots, over thumping '80s dance music. And "Clases de Cuchillo (Knife Lessons)," by Edwin Sanchez, lives up to its name, offering tutorials on knife play by three characters who, rather disarmingly, seem to know their stuff.

Hawaiian artist Robert Cauble's "Alice in Wonderland or Who is Guy Debord?" begins innocently enough, reclaiming with modern voiceovers footage from the animated Disney version of the Lewis Carroll story (our generation's visual touchstone). For the first 10 minutes, Alice ambles along mostly according to script before Cauble reveals his point of diversion: Alice's inquiries lead her not back home to England, but to the collective spirit of French Situationist Guy Debord. Splitting the difference between a pastiche new-media lesson on 20th-century French philosophy and pure Situationist propaganda (which is not at all a bad thing), Cauble's piece, at 22 minutes, is the longest work included here. Though it's not the best piece in the program, it rewards viewers who view the entirety of "Program 35 (Vol. 1)" in a variety of ways, notably with one of the most hummable anticapitalist jams ever sung by a team of cartoons.

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Related: Slideshow: ''Painting the American Vision'' at the Peabody Essex; ''Shifting Terrain: Landscape Video'' at the Currier Museum of Art, Peter Max's pop life, Treasure trove, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, Lewis Carroll, Video,  More more >
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