The light lock in the lobby: Recent films and moving images in Forum

| December 15th, 2011, 6:13 PM

When I arrived at the museum in May 2009, my first show was in the Forum Gallery. I brought together three moving image works that kept kicking around my head over the preceding year. The dark, granite floored gallery seemed a good place to experiment with their simultaneous presentation. All silent, the group included Joachim Koester’s frantic, beautiful, and strange 16mm film Tarantism, William E. Jones latest version of his Farm Security Administration digital photo animation hypnotism Killed, called Punctured, and Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer’s nighttime film raid on the Met, Flash in the Metropolitan. You can read more about the Jones, Koester, Nashashibi/Skaer: Reanimation here.

This was followed by something a bit…different. After meeting Ragnar Kjartansson when I was a grad student at Bard (and seeing him perform his signature tune “Satan is Real” at sunset, buried shirtless to his waist on the property of a crumbling Hudson River Valley estate), I was interested to see what he would do in Venice for the 2009 Biennale. Seeing his portrait painting be-in in action, I asked him to come up with a project for the Carnegie’s grand, robber baron spaces. Expecting a proposal for him to move into our gilded and marbled Music Hall Foyer, he instead sent a sketch of his three nieces, young ladies in their late teens and early 20s, lounging on stage in the middle of the museum’s iconic Hall of Sculpture. They were to perform a song written by him based on a misremembered Allen Ginsberg poem, Song, over and over again, all day, for three weeks. And so they did.

Around this work, we organized a mini-survey of the artist’s recent videos including The End, Satan is Real, The Man, and Me and My Mother. Me and My Mother and Satan is Real were shown in public spaces around the museum. There were some memorable interactions between public and artwork. One image, stuck in my mind, is of a Franciscan monk patiently and quietly watching Ragnar sing, shirtless and buried, “Satan is real, and he’s working for me” on repeat. Ragnar makes a new Me and My Mother video every five years (there are three so far). In each work, the artist and his mother (a grand diva in her own right), stand next to each other, staring straight at the camera. His mother works herself up, and spits on her son. The videos, shown together in our lobby, are funny, sad, extravagant, and touching in a strange way (I can always see the subsequent, unmade videos, as mother and son each get older, until the project comes to an end). We received some complaints from parents who were upset that we would show videos of a son spitting his mother. A fair concern. Interesting, however, that they saw the reverse of what was actually happening…

In between Reanimation and Ragnar Kjartansson: Song Amanda Donnan and I organized an exhibition James Lee Byars’ involvement with the Carnegie. Amanda wrote about it here.

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