CURATOR’S GUIDE TO THE EXHIBITION
I Can’t Tell You Because I Can’t Tell You
Curated by Gabriela Vainsencher
September 16 – November 12, 2017
Tacita Dean, Constance DeJong, Thomas Demand, Christian Marclay, Roee Rosen, Roman Signer, and Kerry Tribe.
“What is clear and concise can't deal with reality, for to be real is to be surrounded by mystery.” James Joyce
I Can't Tell You Because I Can't Tell You deals with the inherent problem of shaping human experience into a linear story. Reality, as it is happening, is an overwhelming nonlinear smear: past, present, and future interlace, events mix with emotions, and focus shifts from one thing to another. Maybe this is why people have invented stories in which effects have causes, things happen for a reason, and narrators can be trusted to tell a story straight, with a beginning, middle and end – and in that order.
The artists in this exhibition, however, explore the limitations, flaws, and impossibilities of the narrative structure through photography, video, film, sculpture and performance. They crack open the conventions of their fields to engage the questions: What happens if we agree that every story is an artificial construct that by definition distorts and lies? What if we acknowledge that no narrator is reliable? In lieu of solid narrative ground, this exhibition presents us with works that expose the machinery of story-making and then throw a wrench in the works.
The artists presented here are expert time-warping story benders who reconfigure narrative’s constituent parts in order to expose its inner workings. The resulting works offer complex, layered experiences, which, with their ambivalence regarding truth and lies, past and present, are perhaps closer to what reality feels like.
A series of events will be held in conjunction with the show, including a performance in the gallery by Constance DeJong on October 15th and a screening of Roee Rosen’s film The Confessions of Roee Rosen on November 11th.
In partnership with Marian Goodman Gallery, 601Artspace will also host a presentation of Tacita Dean’s film Event for a Stage on November 4th at Metrograph Cinema, followed by a Q&A with the artist and Hal Foster.
WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION
“I always said I’m just an instrument; I’m transparent, like a medium, the language passes through me. Which is a bit like saying I’m a recording device, I start and I go.”
Constance DeJong’s practice lies at the juncture between text and sound. Her monologues, both written and performed, smoothly blend an omniscient narrator’s voice with characters’ inner soliloquies in which current events, memories, and cultural references, high and low, coexist. In an interview with her longtime off-and-on collaborator Tony Oursler, DeJong reflected on this mix, saying, “The text is moving, linking moment to moment to moment without the pretense of character development and plots driven by time-ordered events or psychological underpinnings.” “A little like life,” noted Oursler, to which DeJong replied: “Well, yeah. And we don’t get confused by so-called unrelated events occurring in the course of things.”
In live performances DeJong recites her monologues from memory, sometimes for as long as two hours. Her radios, two of which are presented here, are extensions of her performances and written works. Their analog guts taken out and replaced with digital players, the old-timey objects are re-engineered to play monologues performed by the artist. Every time a radio is turned on, one is selected to play at random. DeJong will perform at 601Artspace on October 15.
(Image: Constance DeJong, Racetrack Zenith, 2016-2017, Re-engineered radio with amplitude-sensitive LEDs, audio 12 × 5 × 7 in. 22:22 min.)
Tacita Dean’s JG is a set of 14 offset prints titled after her eponymous 2013 film. The prints show individual moments from the film, which was shot in anamorphic color and black-and-white 35mm film using a method Dean developed (and patented!). By inserting tiny 3D-printed stencils, less than a millimeter thick, into the camera’s gate, she was able to expose only certain parts of the film, then put in a new stencil and run the same film through, this time exposing it through a different mask, resulting in unique in-camera collages that compress time and space.
Born out of the artist’s quest for an encounter with Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and her correspondence with JG Ballard, whose story “The Voices of Time” may or may not have influenced Smithson, JG explores the otherworldly Utah landscape, in all its natural and manmade glory.
(Image: Tacita Dean, JG (offset), 2013. Handmade offset, archival offset 250 gr., 1 from set of 14, 11 13/16 x 30 ½ in. (30 x 77.5 cm) (each). Edition of 12. Image courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery New York/Paris and Frith Street Gallery, London.)
Kerry Tribe’s video Critical Mass is derived from Hollis Frampton’s eponymous film from 1971. In that work, Frampton filmed a lovers’ quarrel. The script is familiar: accusations quickly beget counter-accusations and logic fails in the face of insistence. Frampton then jaggedly cut up the footage as well as the sound, turning the fight into a percussive repetition that ultimately goes out of synch with the image.
Fast-forward four decades. What Frampton did with film editing, Tribe translated into a live performance. She worked with actors Emilie O’Hara and Nick Huff to recreate Frampton’s cuts and edits using their voices and bodies. Their joint performance paradoxically manages to replicate the spontaneous anguish of a breakup while mimicking the mechanized stutter of the film loop.
(Image credit: Critical Mass, 2012, Performance at Tate Modern, Featuring Emelie O'Hara and Nick Huff, Photo © Tate)
Standing at the center of the gallery like a smoking gun over a corpse, Roman Signer’s Chair with Fan embodies the basic human craving for narrative and the reflex with which our hearts and minds project even the most inanimate situations with human drama. In a show in which everyone else is messing with narrative, Signer gives us its most basic elements: somebody did something to somebody else. Conceived in the 1990s, this is the work’s US debut.
(Image: Roman Signer, Stuhl mit Ventilator (Chair with Fan), 1999. Fan, chair, dimensions variable)
Rasen’s stark mundaneness and all-over composition make it hard to recognize as a work by Thomas Demand, even for those familiar with the artist’s work. Here is an artist who spends countless hours constructing a double illusion; the illusion that what we see in this photograph is real life rather than a manmade fiction constructed in the studio, and the illusion that we are looking at the work of a photographer at a remove, rather than that of an hands-on sculptor.
(Image: Thomas Demand, Rasen (Lawn), 1998, chromogenic print, 48 x 67 in.)
Confessions Coming Soon is a hilarious and painful sendup of the power dynamics between artist and subject, the trust children put in their parents, and the relationship between artist and viewer, complicated by expectations and complicity. We encounter Rosen’s young son in front of a green-screen, speaking directly to the camera in a heavily accented English. Soon it is made clear that the child is reading a transliterated text, written for him phonetically in Hebrew, and has no idea what he is saying. (Rosen lives in Israel with his family.) The text spoken is an indictment of the artist, the child’s father. It begins like this: “Pay attention please […]. What you are witnessing is an act of possession. […] I am now Pinocchio in reverse – a real child turned puppet by a vicious Geppetto.” At some point the boy offers the Nazi salute with an innocently straight face.
Both an artwork in its own right and a trailer for another video, Confessions Coming Soon invites viewers to see The Confessions of Roee Rosen, with which the child/announcer promises the artist will join “… the tradition that brought you Saint Augustine, Rousseau and Jerry Springer.” This video will be screened at 601Artspace on November 11. For The Confessions of Roee Rosen the artist hired three foreign female workers who do not speak Hebrew and had them read a transliterated text in to the camera, making Hebrew come out of their mouths even though they were reading a Latin-alphabet text. They confessions they deliver in the artist’s name put the ‘gore’ in phantasmagoric while mixing the Middle East conflict with erotic fantasy in language equally full of shame and ecstasy, deadpan humor and heartfelt exhortation.
(Image: Roee Rosen, Confessions Coming Soon, 2007, video 08:40 min.)
Telephones presents us with a rhythm of fragmented acts culled from the constituent parts of a cultural phenomenon in the process of fading out from contemporary life: the telephone call. Christian Marclay’s video collage uses clips from a century of filmmaking, collected and sorted by action, including the dialing, ringing, and the answering (or not) of the telephone. As Telephones unfolds, an impossible conversation ensues.
(Image: Christian Marclay, Telephones, (video still), 1995, video (DVD), running time 7:30 minutes)
About the curator:
Gabriela Vainsencher is a visual artist, born in Buenos Aires, raised in Tel Aviv, and based in Brooklyn. Her work spans video, sculpture, photography, and translation to explore many of the themes central to this exhibition. Her solo and two-person exhibitions include Hanina Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel; Musée d’Art Moderne André Malraux, Le Havre, France; Parker’s Box Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; and La Chambre Blanche, Québec City, Canada. Group exhibitions featuring her work include NurtureArt, Brooklyn (upcoming November 2017), Bergamo Modern and Contemporary Art, Italy; Kunstforening, Tromsø, Norway; Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, The Freies Museum, Berlin; and The National Gallery of Saskatchewan, Canada. Residencies include Yaddo, The Atlantic Center for the Arts (USA), Triangle Arts Association (France), and La Chambre Blanche (Canada). Vainsencher received an MFA from Hunter College in 2016. She is the founder of the Morning Drawing Residency and has written about art for Hyperallergic, Title Magazine and Tohu magazine. Vainsencher also teaches art at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and at the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, New York, NY.