Monday, December 15, 2008

Recommended: "If We Can't Get it Together"

A few quick thoughts on a show I recently saw and recommend: "If We Can't Get it Together" at the Power Plant to Feb 22

This just-opened show, curated by Stockholm's Nina Montmann, is generally quite strong, full of the kind of works that don't seem all that engaging at first, but sneak up on you with their power. It also includes intriguing work from a number of artists I've never heard of before: India's Shaina Anand, Sweden's Kajsa Dahlberg, Korea's Haegue Yang, New York's Emly Roysdon and more. That sense of discovery is always nice.

I spent a lot of time with Yang's work, an installation of venetian blinds, heaters, fans, odor elements and video that riffed on the permeability of being human. This theme was forced, of course, physically, with the sense of touch and smell played with by the artist. But it was also elaborated in the video, which focused on "in-between" public spaces in a Brazilian city, and on fluid water meeting hard concrete, the impermanent meeting the permanent. The sound element on migration and inbetweenness would have been overly philosophical and hard to bear without the physical elements, but overall I think it worked.

Montmann was focusing a lot on that sense of inbetweenness, between the group and the individual, between solidity and the unknown. The show title seemed to spring from the work of Shaina Anand, which connected disaparate though nearby spaces in an Indian city--workplaces, women's living rooms, coffeeshops and bars--through video and audio, allowing four places to speak to each other at once. There were about 8 experiments of this type, presented here in edited video "episodes". The results are really cool and insightful, showing how connection can actually happen, as well as conflict--the "If We Can't Get It Together What will happen?" voiced by a man speaking to class and ethnic tensions during one of the experiments. In the latter "episodes" Anand and her collaborators intervene in the process by introducing characters, something I wasn't so hot on. I think people interacting themselves can be fascinating.

Kajsa Dahlberg's quiet video of a group of women taking down the tents for an all-woman festival was also really great. It just showed these women at work, but the effect was to posit things like organizing, cleaning and deconstructing as valuable. Also really nice to see queer women portrayed in a non L-word, non glamorous, just human kind of way. Of course the inbetweenness here also applies to the gender spectrum these women exist in, but I really like how this idea of inbetweeness goes beyond the whole drag thing (which I still love but has been a main focus for a while in art) to a sense of performing gender, and gender heroism, in a more utilitarian way.

Emily Roysdon's photographs posited this question of how to "be" in community most straightforwardly, almost in cute Sesame Street Style, by showing people in a human pyramid, but who at the same time are taking a self-portrait. Some might call this too simple, but I think it works as a friendly entry point.

There were more artists there worth discussing, but I think what most struck me overall was that the show's best pieces took me to a place of accepting an undoomful uncertainty. I choose these words because works that try to put the viewer in a place of uncertainty and disorientation--some of Steve Reinke's videos come to mind--often come off to me as jaded, nihilistic and unpleasant. While these put the viewer in a position of not knowing, of not being able to understand everything, of being conflicted, it was done in an open-minded to hopeful-and-empathetic way.

I look forward to visiting the show again, and hearing what others think. The related January symposium "We, Ourselves and Us" also looks interesting.

Installation detail of Emily Roysdon's Strategic Form from

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