vendredi 17 octobre 2008
Alix Pearlstein (The Kitchen, New York)
An Attack on Foam Core and on the Status Quo
Alix Pearlstein’s videos and video installations have always tagged her as a rogue structuralist. She prefers to leaven the mechanics of performance art and the moving image with good-size doses of domestic life, down-to-earth humor and revealing emotion while implicating the viewer in it all through wildly active camera movement. In her show of three new works at the Kitchen, Ms. Pearlstein appears to have taken off the gloves. Perhaps she has paid too much attention to 1970s precedents like the innovations of Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer and Richard Serra. Perhaps the social and political events of the day have made her mad as hell and unable to take it anymore. Her actors often conduct themselves with an animalistic force; the camera is either unflinchingly immobile or relentlessly on the move. The result is a stripped-down, bare-knuckled starkness — not to mention an occasional obviousness — that is both a declaration of ambition and an attack on the status quo. For whatever reason, Ms. Pearlstein seems to have pulled the emotions and ideas in her art apart and is knocking their heads together. In “After the Fall,” the four-channel video installation that is the centerpiece, the action unfolds on four large screens, one to a wall. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a single scene has been shot by four cameras that either face one another in opposing pairs or circle the room — the very room in which we stand. On the screens four men and four women are divided into two teams by their attire. One group tends toward black and gold and seems ready to go clubbing; the other favors identical tones of pink and red, like overgrown members of the Mickey Mouse Club. The actors move back and forth between the center and the edges, taking part in different vignettes or just milling about, looking conspiratorially into the cameras. Their contact involves a bit of sex, a little violence (usually two couples pushing from opposite sides of a large white sheet of foam core), recurring ridicule and all-cast confabs in which they argue, gossip, vent or flirt. We seldom understand a word they say, but the facts of existence are clear: competitiveness, betrayal, manipulation, occasional moments of intimacy. The general sense of moral shiftlessness is echoed in the literal disorientation caused by the revolving images and our attempts to watch events unfold from four different angles. Life is no more pleasant in two single-channel pieces. In “One Side of Two Women 2” two disgruntled actresses in white walk back and forth, toward or away from a static camera, each one carrying a rectangle of white foam core that she holds in front of her face every time she stops to turn around. Three decades ago pretentious ideas about space, mirroring and repetition might have surrounded this piece; today it seems like a sarcastic meditation on the countless women who have figured in generations of avant-garde film and performance by men. In “Goldrush” the camera moves in close as the group of eight returns, this time to tear apart a sheet of foam core and grab at the scraps. Something — cinema, art, a world — is being destroyed by senseless greed. Not too complicated, perhaps, but painfully familiar right now.
For the last couple of decades, the seriously wily Alix Pearlstein has been making stark videos that combine group therapy, Pavlovian science, theater, slapstick comedy, and angsty existential pathos. For this large-scale outing Pearlstein is in fine form in several works. In the large gallery is the four-channel After the Fall, a combination orgy, hell, and soap opera featuring a number of lost souls, horny chicks, randy guys, and angry young men walking around one another, coming together, fighting, talking, and staring. It’s anyone’s guess what it’s all about, but it does have a look. In the back room we see similar characters doing similar things with similar results. Pearlstein coaxes you into a handsome visual realm, flirts with you, and then leaves you on your own.
It’s hard to stomach the sneering characters in Alix Pearlstein’s new videos, not the least because they direct their hostility at us. In the title piece, a racially diverse cast acts out a drama in which actors grope each other one moment and fight the next, then turn to give the camera the evil eye. Two more videos, featuring various run-ins between characters, illustrate the truism that all of us are fatally flawed—a point that’s difficult to dispute when political brawling and financial irresponsibility dominate headlines. Like a theatrical version of Survivor, the self-interested characters in After the Fall act out alliances and betrayals, creatively using a sheet of fiberboard as both barrier and weapon. Red and gold costumes evoke blood and money, while the four-screen projection—shot from different angles—not only suggests competing versions of the story, but keeps our eyes hopping around. When the actors break character and fix us with stony or disgusted looks, the ugliness of the story line and our voyeuristic interest hits home. In the end, everyone’s unhappy, which only underscores the postlapsarian state alluded to in the title while denying any possibility of redemption. An even deeper pessimism suffuses Goldrush, as actors brawl over scraps of the broken fiberboard. Humor emerges in Two Women 2, which riffs on Michael Snow’s experimental film “Two Sides to Every Story,” in which two huffy actors compete for the same role. But while the shorter videos allow viewers to see the actors as other people, the title piece compels us to change from viewer to actor.
Andrea K. Scott:
Pearlstein strips drama down to the bare bones—conflict, intimacy, ritual—in deadpan videos that alchemize the theatrical and the cinematic into a seductive third genre. Call it glam minimalism. In the four-channel video “After the Fall,” eight actors—four costumed in black and gold, the others in red and pink—conspire, break rank, and regroup in an absurd power struggle over a flimsy white board. Dialogue, though audible, is largely incomprehensible. There are traces of Bertolt Brecht, Lars Von Trier, Michael Snow, and even the tents in Bryant Park in Pearlstein’s gorgeous, rigorous mind-and-body game.