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Reviews / March 13, 2008

Re-Enactments: Rediscovering the Collective Past

Nancy Davenport Earth & Space Sciences From the photo series Campus (2004) Courtesy of the artist

The DHC/Art Foundation’s latest exhibition Re-Enactments boldly suggests that we have reached an era where new ideas can only arise through a rediscovery of the past. This timely exhibition includes six international artists who have been brought together because of the ways they ‘re-enact’ cultural references that are embedded within our collective memory. For al of them, the current image-saturated world is a source to be plundered—with inspirations ranging from media spectacle to art house cinema and memory.

One highlight is Harun Farocki’s Deep Play (2007), a highly-engaging video installation that was easily missed amidst the pandemonium of Documenta 12. This work contains 12 real-time synchronized video projections focused on the 2006 World Cup Final between France and Italy. The screens each air a different perspective on the game in real time, from unprocessed live feed to abstract-computer generated statistics and ongoing remarks made by TV production crews. The work skilfully unravels the layers of artifice that are involved in producing a ‘live’ sporting spectacle.

Similar to Farocki, Paul Pfeiffer deconstructs the media circus that follows celebrity by casting a critical eye at the ill-famed icon Michael Jackson. His main installation Live From Neverland (2007) restages the singer’s notorious, public statement following child molestation allegations. From the corner of the room a monitor positioned on the floor replays a silent version of Jackson’s televised plea of innocence, which is juxtaposed with a projection across the room that captures a choir of 80 children clad in white who meticulously recite the singer’s word-for-word account. The unsettling synchronicity between the actual footage and flawlessly-paced ritualistic chorus dislocates humanity from persona, reducing Jackson to a grotesque caricature.

Film references are another common strand that runs across this exhibition. Both Nancy Davenport and Kerry Tribe’s installations are a tribute to cinematic virtuoso Jean-Luc Godard. Tribe’s Here and Elsewhere (2002) is a poetic meditation that features a film historian and his daughter as they reinvent a controversial experiment that Godard conducted in the televised series France/tour/détour/deux/enfants (1978). The original and its reworking involve an interviewer off-camera who invites a child to reflect upon complex philosophical questions about existence. Stan Douglas’s point of departure is also film. For Inconsolable Memories (2005) he draws upon the Cuban classic Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), which tells the story of a struggling intellect who refuses to emigrate after the Bay of Pigs invasion. In this work, Douglas elegantly weaves in a parallel universe of his own creation that is set 20 years later and reinterprets the main protagonist’s tale. Using two alternating reels of different film footage – he combines ‘real’ with fictional footage to generate changing versions of the narrative, allowing the past to blur into the present and back.

Ann Lislegaard’s I-You-Later-There (2000) is arguably the most poignant work on display. It expands the parameters of the show’s theme and is the only work that does not explicitly draw upon a specific cultural reference. The installation comprises of a sizable, standing white board akin to a cinematic screen that is haunted by a light, which rhythmically flickers to everyday sounds – floorboards creaking, traffic and keyboards clicking – as well as the voice of a woman sharing her innermost thoughts. Here, Lislegaard adds theatricality to commonplace reminiscences immersing the viewer in a cinematic atmosphere that pays homage to intimate moments that feel as if they belong to the viewer. This thoughtful exhibition offers an impeccable selection of works that bravely tackle a loftier issue about the approaches available to current art practice.