Friday, December 28, 2012

Mircea Cantor, Prix Marcel Duchamp 2011, Centre Pompidou

Mircea Cantor, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2012

Everything in Mircea Cantor’s world is dangerous. And everything is made all the more dangerous because it is beautiful, and filled with innocence and purity. A child carefully stands three large calving knives on a table, then blows them down, as if they were candles on his birthday cake. What makes the loop of Wind Orchestra (2012) so frightening is that the child goes through the motions over and over again (thanks to the looping) seemingly out of boredom, with nothing else to do. And it is not lost on the viewer as s/he watches the three knives, as they chime in their fall, that they could be deadly if used in a different way.
Mircea Cantor, Epic Fountain, 2011
All of the pieces in this exhibition which celebrates Mircea Cantor, the Romanian artist now working in France, for his winning of the 2011 Prix Marcel Duchamp, have a double, sometimes even a triple edge. Epic Fountain, 2012 is made of 24 carat gold-plated safety pins, delicately fastened to form a double spiral that represents the form of human DNA. What we think of as everyday objects are first made precious and extraordinary through being gold plated, then they are wound together into a column that is aesthetically gorgeous. But, as always, the piece is underwritten by violence. It’s a violence that is never present, only suggested, as it is when the world is hung together by safety pins, pins that could well be a kind of barbed wire barrier.

Mircea Cantor, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, 2012

The recurring form in this exhibition, and in Cantor’s work more generally, at least as I have seen it, is the circle. A group of beggars, or perhaps they are believers, prostrate before a woman, in the shape of a circle. Their arms are extended and the palms of their hands open to receive the fuse that this beautiful young Asian woman will ignite. The woman’s face is friendly and lovely, and she lays down the fuse so tenderly, that it is inconceiveable she might want to hurt them. The flame of the fuse travels around the circle across the open palms of the men who do not watch the danger as it climbs over their hands and onto the next. The movement of the flame is accompanied by the beat of a drum that intensifies as the woman moves around the circle, first laying down the fuse, and then again as she follows the flame on its path. The drum beats faster, the flame moves to the end of the fuse, the cutting of the image increases its pace, and the woman’s expression never changes. Again, the violence is only suggested, it is not directly administered. At the end of the piece the burnt fuse smells and looks of destruction, of a movement into death.

Mircea Cantor, Don't Judge, Filter, Shoot, 2012
In perhaps the most frightening of all the pieces on exhibition here, a series of filters that reminded me of the sieves that might be used when panning for gold, are arranged on the wall, again in a circle. Each has six holes in the fabric that stretches across the wooden frame. And inside each filter or sieve are the six gold and concrete bullets that have made the holes. The violence is clear enough here, but again, because the bullets are at rest, the threat is placed in the past. It is only the memory of the time when the bullets are shot that pierces the viewer’s sense of vulnerability. True to Cantor’s other work, it is not the circle itself that is important in works such as this, Don’t Judge, Filter, Shoot, 2012, it is what happened inside the circle that matters. Just like it is the violence of the past that tugs at our heartstrings, as we remember all of the bullets that have been shot unnecessarily in recent times.

All Images courtesy of the Artist 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Le Retour (The Homecoming), dir. Luc Bondy, Odéon-Théâtre de L'Europe

I couldn’t wait to see Luc Bondy’s staging of Harold Pinter’s 1965 Homecoming/Le Retour, even though it was in French. The reviews in both the French and British press have applauded the apparently “fresh” rendition. Though I am always reluctant to see translations of English language plays, the all star cast of Bruno Ganz, Louis Garrel, Emmanuelle Seigner and Micha Lescot, together with the rave reviews convinced me Le Retour was not to be missed.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was very underwhelmed by this staging of Pinter’s otherwise tense and caustic, family working-class British drama. From where I was sitting, the play didn’t translate well into French, literally. The French language, beautiful as it is, mirrors the abstraction of philosophical discourse. And so, the concrete realism of Pinter’s language, of working class British language and life was nowhere to be found in this version of Le Retour. As I understand it, for Pinter, it is not only the language itself that communicates, but the nuances, the double meanings, what lies behind the words but is nevertheless left unsaid. He relies on these layers of language for the creation of meaning. Again, this level of communication was lost to the French.

I was also disappointed by the casting, if not by the acting. All but Micha Lescot seemed like odd choices. Bruno Ganz, who I can’t help seeing, always, through the lens of his most informative performance as Kaspar Hauser in Herzog’s film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), was wonderful, but nevertheless, an odd choice to play Max. Ganz virtually redefined the characteristics of gentleness, naivety and vulnerability as the young man who appeared to the world having been kept in a dungeon for all of his life, in Herzog's film. Of course, he is more recently known for his performance of Hitler in Der Untergang  (2004) in which he masterfully plays the ailing dictator. However, on stage in Le Retour, it seemed that Ganz did not have the presence or the command demanded by the character of Max, the violent, angry patriarch. Such a figure, I imagine, would create a sense of fear and anxiety in the air that surrounds him. But Bruno Ganz is mild, and still somewhat gentle as an actor: he did not convince me that his physical presence was in any way threatening. Indeed, none of his sons reflected a sense of their fear of him.

Similarly Emmanuelle Seigner was “too French” in her performance of the provocative, restless and seductive Ruth. Seigner was anything but the working class Brit with her coy, playful sexual teasing. As the character who apparently provides the glue that holds the play together, who comes to symbolize the tensions, fears, frustrations and secret desires of the family of men, Seigner was less than convincing. Like the other relationships in this version of the play, her seduction of the men, her games and desires, were somehow not credible, coming out of nowhere, conveyed with a one-dimensionality. Like the relationship between Max and his sons, there was no tension between Seigner and the other characters.

Again, I wonder if this was not helped because the drama of Pinter’s language could not be left unsaid, unfelt, unheard, in French. To give just one example, although we know why Teddy left home in the first place, all of the repressed trauma, the enigma, the implications of violence, are never felt in the way that the characters relate to each other now. John Lahr writes in The New Yorker:

"'The Homecoming' changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realized, could convey volumes."

What changed Lahr’s life is, of course, what was missing from Luc Bondy’s production.

The one thing I really loved about Bondy’s version of Le Retour was the set, with its signature missing wall. The use of the window in the middle of the set, at the back of the stage, was superb. The characters appear and disappear like ghosts behind the dirty window that is meant to connect the interior of the home to the world outside. But it never does. The characters are always like apparitions as they stand looking inside. And then when on the inside, their images become reflected in the window, making them no more than images who have no power to assert their identity.

Ultimately, though, this is a play of excruciatingly painful realizations and unrealized desires. Neither the staging of Le Retour, the casting, nor the language of translation can communicate the nuances of the social world in which such dramas take place. And so when the French audience laughed at the most poignant and violent moments, I was convinced that it’s still best to see English theatre in its own language. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Caravaggio, The Fortune Teller, 1595-98

Caravaggio, The Fortune Teller, 1593-95

Unable to get near the door of the Orangerie to see the Soutine exhibition because of the crowds, Tim and I executed plan B last Friday, and settled for an afternoon at the Louvre. I had recently read an article on The Calling of Saint Matthew (1599) and so, with Caravaggio on the mind, we headed up the great hall to find Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller (1593-95) or La Diseuse de Bonne Aventure as the French title card names it. 

Much is often made of this painting’s narrative: a young boy being seduced by a fortune teller as she surreptitiously takes his ring, he being so mesmerized that he is oblivious to her duplicity. It is true, there is an eroticism to the touch of his hand which is made ven more compelling by the warm light coming through the window to the left of the painting. But what seduces the viewer of The Fortune Teller is not the narrative, it’s the light and the fabrics of the clothes worn by the young man especially, in Caravaggio’s demonstration of wealth, social status, the boy’s naievety and the woman’s deception.
Caravaggio, The Calling of St Matthew, 1599
The light coming in from the window somewhere to the left and in front of the scene is glorious. As in his later masterpiece, The Calling of St Matthew, in which light evolves from compositional force to the very subject of the painting when Christ’s presence envelops Matthew, the light in The Fortune Teller does so much more than simply illuminate the clandestine scene. Light bathes their actions in a soft erotic glow. The light defines the boy’s face, making him cherubic, naïve and innocent. It also accentuates the texture of his gloves, the stitching, the frills on his collar and cuffs, and every hair in the feather on his hat. The sword, the feather, the fabrics, including the boy’s skin and the woman’s fingernails overtake the substance of the woman’s deceit. And if colour is enabled by paint as light, let’s not forget the rich caramel of his jacket, the warm yellow of the wall, the beautiful folds of his gloves. 

The other curious detail that keeps the viewer transfixed is the relay of looks between the two characters. Neither of them looks at the other. Their looks both miss the other’s line of sight very slightly, giving them both a self-containment, and thus, a distance from each other. And then there is the “look” or momentum created by the painting. Our eye is drawn up towards the window that does not exist, from where the sun is coming. The source of the light might be said to be the true centre of the painting, which might explain why the two human figures are pushed back by the light, towards the right of the composition. Again, as if in a preface to The Calling of St Matthew four years later, the light streams in as the compositional energy and the source of all delight on this canvas.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Philippe Decouflé, Octopus, Théâtre National de Chaillot

Always wanting to expand our theatre repertoire, Anne and I dutifully went to see the celebrated French choreographer's latest extravaganza, Philippe Decouflé's, Octopus at Chaillot last night. Because he has been so applauded, particularly in France, we were expecting big things. But Anne captured the entire show when she announced at the final curtain "half time at the superbowl is better than that." I am not sure why Decouflé is such a big name in France, but clearly, it's not because of the depth of his choreography or the profundity of the creations in their totality. Octopus, a mélange of acrobatics and fancy dance moves offered nothing of substance to discuss over dinner afterwards. In 2007 he apparently did the parade for the Rugby World Cup, a genre of entertainment I imagine he did very well. Personally, I think he should stick to the World Cup and leave the stage at Chaillot to more substantial performances.

Images courtesy the Artist

Monday, December 3, 2012

Canaletto-Guardi. Les Deux Maîtres de Venise, Musée Jacquemart-André

Canaletto, La Place Saint-Marc, vers l'est, 1723

I have to admit, lover of modern art that I am, this has to be my pick of the fall exhibitions I have seen in Paris so far. When my friend Jim suggested we go to the Canaletto-Guardi exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André, and then when we were greeted with a 45 minute wait on arrival, I was not convinced. Once inside I was seduced by the richness of these treasured paintings and the comfort of their display. One of my biggest problems with the major Paris museums is their zeal to stage massive and overwhelming exhibitions. Unlike the major museums, the Musée Jacquemart-André does not feel this same urge to place Canaletto and Guardi’s work in an extensive, and ultimately unnecessary context. The exhibition is devoted entirely to the “Venice-scapes” of Canaletto and his student Francesco Guardi. Indeed, it is a treat from beginning to end.
Francesco Guardi, La Fête du jeudi gras sur la Piazzetta, 1712-93
Before the entrance to the exhibition, there is a small display on the camera obscura. I can’t be sure why it is there because examining the display would have meant losing my place in the line for the entrance. But I assume that Canaletto and/or Guardi were using a camera obscura for the designs of the buildings, in particular, and also the relationship between water and buildings on the Venice canals. I say this because the mathematical precision to every building, their form, their masonry, their ornamentation, is extraordinary. The detail down to the last window sill forges a realism that will find its most articulate embodiment in the photographic image 150 years later. In addition, like the image created through a camera obscura, the paintings' perspectival vision is as it would be seen through a lens. The lateral sweep of Guardi’s paintings give his images an anamorphic distortion, including the convex curve of the water as it meets the buildings along the canal. Likewise, the depth of field in Canaletto’s suggest a deep focus lens. And in both cases, the rigor of the detail remains razor sharp even as the water flows to a diminishing perspective in Canaletto’s painting and across the horizontal axis of Guardi’s. 

Francesco Guardi, Le Canale di Cannaregio,
avec la Palazzo Surian-Bellotto, l'ambassade de France
vers 1778-80
What’s also exciting about the perspective is that we are placed in a position somewhere before and above the piazzas and the waterways: we look into them, our eye being channeled vertically through the spaces of Canaletto’s Venice, and then when our gaze reaches the back of the square, or the other side of the lagoon, we are lifted upwards and outwards, into a voluminous and luminous sky. The movement through the paintings articulates a curious depth of field that initially follows the principles of classical perspective, and then when our eye reaches the vanishing point, it is as though we are placed behind a camera in motion, on a crane, taking us on a journey perpedicular to the picture plane and then parallel to it. And yet, we are still in the mid-eighteenth century. 

Francesco Guardi, Le Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, vers 1770
I could write endlessly about the richness and intrigue of these paintings, but other than the perspectival renderings, the one element that will charm every viewer is the use of light and lighting: the shadows as they fall across the Piazza San Marco, the luminosity of the sky that somehow illuminates the squares and waterways of the mysterious Venice, the reflections on the waterways as the Venetians go about their business being so perfect that we can identify the time of day effortlessly. The light of the day is in turns sharp and soft, giving the details of the buildings, creating the atmosphere of the activities on the water, in Piazza San Marco. And the colors, as we know them, are the colors of Venice: deep reds, contrasting the blues and greens of the water, sky and the earth tones for the buildings that line the canal. The clarity of these paintings is the light, but it is also in the color and form of composition. 

Canaletto, L'Entré du Grand Canal, avec Santa Maria della Salute et le canal de la Giudecca,
vue de l'extrémité occidentale du Môle
, 1722
Venice in the mid-eighteenth century comes alive in these paintings. And it is a Venice where people are always working – they consistently stand in twos or threes, deep in discussion, doing deals no doubt, or alone, carrying, pushing, selling, As they are pictured here, and as we know them through reputation, the Venetians are always working. They do not relax in the way that we do in Venice today, drinking coffee, eating icecream, watching people and idly walking around Piazza San Marco. Canaletto and Guardi remind us of Venice as it was meant to be, not as the museum it has become.

I can’t possibly write about the exhibition without mentioning our fellow visitors. At a conservative estimate Jim and I were at least twenty years younger than the other visitors. And because of the small spaces, together with the crowds, we were thrust together with them, subjected to telephone conversations, the usual French pushing and shoving, the audio tours turned up too loud, and incredulous stares as Jim and I discussed the paintings - in English. This is both a word of warning, and preparation for an atmosphere that bustles with a liveliness that has to be taken as part of the Canaletto and Guardi experience.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adel Abdessemed, Je suis Innocent, Centre Pompidou

Adel Abdessemed, Wall Drawing, 2006
Image courtesy Avis Culture
This is one of two lovely exhibitions in the Espace 315 galleries of the Pompidou Centre, spaces usually given over to newer more experimental art. I enjoyed so much about Adel Abdessemed’s work, not least of all its ability to send a knife through the body without touching it. Perhaps because the work was carefully cordoned off, probably because of its fragility, looking from a distance, I felt its sharp, devastating physical impact.  Looking at Wall Drawing, 2006 for example in which nine perfect circles made out of barbed wire affixed to the wall, a chill ran across my skin. I imagined the heads caught inside those perfect circles.

Adel Abdessemed, Hope, 2011

In Practice Zero Tolerance, the two “charred cars,” that are in fact made of terra cotta, turned over on their sides are familiar to us from Gaza, Iraq as far back as the first war, Desert Storm, and all the other battlefields where the value of a mode of transport is rendered the spoil of war. The charred car, usually having been blown up by a car bomb is one of the most familiar signs of the destruction and insanity of war. It is because these representations have a general, widespread reference to war and violence, not just to one war in particular, that they accrue ever more power. The notion of war is itself a problem, and there is no point in critiquing one war in particular. It’s all the same. Hope functions in the same way. The row boat suspended by cables on its side, about to capsize, is filled with resin black garbage bags. Again, standing before it we see the waste of destruction, the debris of an accident floating out to sea, where people have not survived, people have not made it into the boat.

Adel Abdessemed, Practice Zero Tolerance, 2008
The exhibition also features a number of videos, all of which are compelling and disturbing, all for different reasons. In Also Sprach Allah (2008) the artist is thrown from a blanket held at the corners and on the sides by henchmen. He has to write “Also sprach Allah” on a prayer mat that is stretched on the ceiling. With each throw he manages to make one mark on the carpet. The work is apparently a reference to Goya’s El Pelele (1792) in which a straw dummy is thrown to the sky. Without knowing of Goya’s earlier work, the piece is easily accessible and comprehensible in its realization of the artist as obedient, giving up individual will, whether by force or by choice, as he takes up a role of subservience to the regime, to God, to his role within, for Abdessemed, Islamic society. This is a world where Neitzsche (the obvious reference of the work is to Thus Spoke Zarathustra) has been replaced by Allah. Indeed, even though there is no specific location, the videos depict a war that is everywhere and a war that is clearly taking place in the Islamic world. A man plays a flute, naked, the image is looped, and we are immediately reminded of the torture rituals practiced by Americans in its recent wars. The nakedness, the effort of playing the instrument, the repetition, it’s all a for of torture to watch as well as to perform. 

Adel Abdessemed, Also Sprach Allah 2008

In one of the most disturbing videos, a piglet suckles a woman’s breast in a 30sec loop. As the pig’s snout gently sucks and massages, Lise, 2011 disturbs because it is all at once erotic, exotic and repulsive. It is erotic for obvious reasons, and only repulsive because of our social expectations that would have this kind of bestiality adjudged inacceptable. But the breast is also nurturing the pig, giving life and sustenance to the young animal. And so the image becomes exotic and charming as the human rescues, and gives life, to the baby animal. More than anything, it’s our responses to the image that make it disturbing, because after all, it is just a pig suckling a woman. A no less disturbing image is that of couples performing sex in a gallery. Here, the audience within the film applauds, reinforcing that it is a performance for the enjoyment of onlookers. The diegetic audience members are enthralled, smiling, giving a response that seems superficial, inappropriate, out of kilter with what they have just seen. The motivation for the couples’ performance is also underlined by the fact that there is no love, the men don’t have erections, the couples perform on cue, they make no secret of the fact that they simulate, not have, sex. It’s these uncertainties, the ambiguities and of course the break of certain taboos around sexuality that make this and the other videos in the exhibition, unsettling, even confrontational.

Adel Abdessemed, Lise, 2011

Lastly, this is the perfect exhibition for the industrial space of 315 sud. These spaces use the exposed air conditioning, and the exposed infrastructural scaffolding for which Richard Rodger’s Pompidou Centre is so famous. Abdessemed’s sculptures and video work particularly well in here because of they complement, and effectively extend, the harshness of the space. It is also a gallery that is both inside and outside. The floor to ceiling windows that surround three sides of the 315 sud look out to the harsh world of homelessness on the plaza. I visited Je suis Innocent as day turned into a cold, wet night, and the destruction and tragedy of history echoed in the works became one with the sometimes desperate world outsize on the plaza.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nosferatu, after Bram Stoker's Dracula, Grzegorz Jarzyna

As a longtime fan of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), and never forgetting the spell under which I fell on seeing Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979) for the first time, together with the fact that I am a somewhat dilettantish follower of contemporary Polish dramaturgy, the anticipated appeal of Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Nosferatu was greater than the apparent inaccessibility of Nosferatu in Polish with French surtitles playing in the Odeon satellite theatre on the péripherique. And indeed it was worth every bit of the effort to get there and sit through it.
Renfield in his cage
The performance was spellbinding and in so many ways reminds of the relationship between the cinema and theatre as it thrived in Germany in the 1920s when Murnau made his silent film. Even though his Nosferatu is closer to Bram Stoker’s original with the inclusion of the secondary characters, Jarzyna makes multiple references to the narrative silent cinema of Murnau’s time. Which is to say, the performance was not necessarily cinematic, but it was in productive relationship with previous visual examples of Stoker’s book. Perhaps the most obvious and striking reference is in the use of the lighting to create multiple scenes on a single stage with a single set. As day turns into night, the steel cold light by which the vampire comes to life drenches the stage entrances and exits. And when daylight returns, the diffuse lighting that provides the stage for scientific and philosophical conversations softly illuminates the Harker’s living room and van Helsing’s office. The morgue, the cemetery, and the perspex cage at the front right of the stage that holds Renfield as he writhes in madness, eating his insects and nurturing his connection to the mysterious force, are likewise created as much by the sculpting of light as they are by the placement of the furniture (the same used in all other locations) and the positioning of the characters around it. This dramatic use of the lighting to command the mise-en-scène was also underscored by the fades to black at the end of each brief scene, as if we were indeed watching a silent film. Simultaneously, the scenes mirrored the epistolary form of Bram Stoker's original, but without that mode of address.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Jarzyna’s production, that which made it somewhat trancelike to watch, was the predominance of silence, movement without speech, a mysterious space carved in the air by sound effects that were often no more than hinted at. While the characters talked fast and animatedly when they spoke, there were many pauses and spaces in the conversation. When the women entered their illicit communication with the vampire, whole scenes passed without a sound being uttered. Into these spaces, even when physically absent, the vampire entered and overtook the house which was the stage carved in harsh blue light. And when his spell drove the characters wild, he breathed in the air between people in a room, stopping their conversations, or distending them so that everything adjusted to his presence. Again, Nosferatu himself was nowhere physically present. And so, while Murnau used shadows and editing techniques to convince us of Nosferatu’s curse (or seduction), Jarzyna uses light and a score that itself could have accompanied a silent film. When the vampire eventually arrives to dinner, we hear menacing winds blow through the trees, rats teeming the streets of the town outside, the threat of illness and death made visible through sound. The spell, the irrational, and the heightened arousal of Nosferatu crawl through the air, becoming visualized only when dry ice consumes the stage and envelops Lucy and Mina as they are charmed, impregnated, and violated by his apparent irresistible seduction.

Like the Herzog/Kinski vampire who, in one of the most poignant moments of postwar European cinema, reminds us that “the absence of love is the most abject pain” Jarzyna’s Nosferatu searches throughout the play, for love. Really, in the end, this is all he wants. And though he comes close — he has a similar kind of repulsive attraction to Kinski’s Nosferatu, even for us — his disease, his unsociable habits and undead-ness make it impossible. But our own desire for and identification with him makes his eventual disintegration in the daylight, anything but a happy ending.

Ultimately, Jarzyna demonstrates that Bram Stoker’s novel is as relevant to our contemporary world as it was to that of late-Victorian England. His staging of the story raises (as did Stoker's book at the turn of the 1900s) the most confrontational social issues, but within what for today is a non-confrontational narrative. The book, and Jarzyna’s staging of it extend between issues such as the power of female sexuality, through rape, adultery, AIDS, the danger of our innermost sexual and spiritual desires to make the spell of Nosferatu a challenging pleasure. 

All Images Courtesy of Théâtre de l'Odéon

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Imaginez L'Imaginaire, Palais de Tokyo

Exhibition View of "Les Dérives de l'Imaginaire," in Imaginez l'Imaginaire 
Ever since the Palais de Tokyo underwent its “renovation”, the exhibitions have become increasingly on the edge. On entry to the massive structure, the visitor is greeted with weird noises, what looks like industrial garbage hanging from the ceiling, graffitied walls and exposed air conditioning ducts. The (highly organized) disrepair of the space invites young people and students to sit around on the floor, sketch, talk, and enjoy the environment. It's a pleasurable place to be these days.

Ryan Gander, Ampersand, 2012
There was a lot going on when I visited last week, and though I didn’t really understand the cohering logic of the exhibition, Imaginez L’Imaginaire was a welcome addition to a Paris art scene that is often overtaken by conservative, more established artists, especially in the big museums. As I say, it seemed like a bunch of contemporary artists were brought together under one roof and given the global title of Imaginez L’Imaginaire. As a result the pieces were varying in quality, some of them inaccessible because of an absence of context, others because the technology wasn’t working and so they effectively didn’t exist! That said, there were a handful of interesting and challenging examples of contemporary art.

Matthew Buckingham, One Side of Broadway, 2005
British artist Ryan Gander’s, Ampersand, 2012 was one of the big crowd pleasers. An easy chair in front of an opening in the wall invited the visitor to sit in front of a “window” and watch useless objects move along a conveyor belt. I, like all the others who lined up to sit in the chair, was transfixed! The irony was of course, that we are transfixed by a drill, a zippo lighter, an old vacuum clearner, toilet paper, a baguette, leaves from a tree, a book. That is, we are transfixed and seduced by worthless objects that nevertheless look sexy and desirable because of their display and the enticing way they are lit. It reminded me of my visits to Duane Reade when I was recently in New York City – the mirrors, the lighting, the shine on the bottle that makes me think my life will be better if I buy that product. At the same time, as I sat watching nothing I was reminded of the empty, jetlagged stare at a conveyor belt as I wait for my luggage to be delivered after a long flight. The anticipation, the anxiety that what I am waiting for will not arrive, the seduction of the movement of the conveyor belt, all of it is caught in the window that tempts us with nothing in Ampersand.
Matthew Buckingham, One Side of Broadway, 2005
Another piece I would have loved to see more of, but wasn’t fully working the day I visited, was Matthew Buckingham’s One Side of Broadway, 2005. In the middle of the room 81 slides of the east side of contemporary  Broadway in wintertime, from Battery Park to Columbus Circle, are projected onto a triangular plinth. A speaker hanging from the ceiling emits a woman’s voice that describes the west side of Broadway in 1910 as it is seen in a series of photographs that were published in a book in 1910, Both Sides of Broadway. Even though I couldn’t see the projected images, there was so much going on that I was captivated by the story, and simultaneously, challenged to “imagine the imaginary”. Because the photographs in the book were made using the negative plates manufactured by the Lumières, the narration that accompanies Buckingham’s One Side of Broadway discusses the role of actuality films at the turn of the century, the desire to know the world in its entirety, the wonder of the cinema as the form of the new century. And so, Buckingham’s piece interweaves the stories  of cinema, photography, voice, the written word, the city of New York as a medium itself, into a reflection on the passing of time, the urge to know the world, the ephemerality of memory and the stimulation of the senses in that ephemerality.  

Dove Allouche, Déversoirs d'Orage 1-14, 2009
In a very different vein, was French artist Dove Allouche’s Déversoirs d’Orage 1-14, 2009 was compelling and complicated. He went into the mystical and mythological Paris sewers and followed the flow of the water along the storm spillways, taking photographs. He then printed them as heliogravures, a technique dating from the same time as the sewers were in full operational usage, used acid to corrode a copper plate and revealed images that lie somewhere between stormy seascapes and abstract compositions. Not only are the plates aesthetically sumptuous, but their exploration at the intersection of an old printing process and Paris’ subterranean labyrinth raises interesting revelations about worlds not immediately apparent to the human eye, and the distortions of their transposition to the surface. He’s certainly an artist to watch.