Vancouver – Presentation House Gallery

70
Presentation House

Not Necessarily in That Order
Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver
May 1–July 11, 2010

An exhibition of video works with a raw, abrasive aesthetic could not be more timely; they appear refreshingly antipodal to the slick, austere, high definition images everywhere around us. Not Necessarily in That Order brings together five contemporary video artists with striking works that rub up against each other like two sticks ready to spark fire. The exhibition’s title borrows filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s observation that “a story should have a beginning, middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” Indeed these video works reject standard narrative structure in favour of contradictory, disjunctive or fragmentary storylines that challenge viewers to actively construct meaning from what they are seeing. Mixing references, genres, and modes of performance, these artists demonstrate that the way a story is told is as important as the story itself.
The exhibition starts with an early video performance, The Ballad of Dan Peoples (1976), in which Toronto artist Lisa Steele recounts her grandfather’s stories, adopting his incoherent and rambling mannerisms, neurotically repeating tales as traumatic and extreme as the way they are uttered. Amsterdam-based, Italian artist Rossella Biscotti’s homage to film noir, The Undercover Man (2008), is based on testimony of former FBI agent Joseph Pistone, whose infiltration of New York’s mafia scene under the guise of thief Donnie Brasco made headlines in the early 1980s. Similarly drawing from extensive archival research, Belfast artist Susan MacWilliam recreates a 1931 séance that took place in Winnipeg, in a narrative collage titled F-L-A-M-M-A-R-I-O-N (2009). Both works use the format of the documentary interview to address time, portraiture, and the problematic relationship to truth that the medium of video inherited.
Two works stand out in particular and charge the air with a sense of urgency. New York artist Aïda Ruilova’s work Lulu (2007) is rife with jarring, music video-style jump cuts set to a rapid, anxiously paced soundtrack. One man abruptly spits in the face of another, a struggle ensues, blood pools onto floor — though not in any sensible order. The video is both visually arresting and ultimately disorienting.
Similarly arresting are the psychodramas of Berlin-based, Israeli artist Keren Cytter. Like her other shorts that draw on a myriad of filmic references, Untitled (2009) is a loose remake of John Cassavetes’ Opening Night. A number of intense personal dramas unfold before an audience, yet it is not clear what takes place on stage or backstage, what is scripted or ad lib, artificial or true. All is brilliantly conflated into a repeating sequence of roaming shots across multiple narratives that finally culminates when a young boy raises a shotgun and fires.
The through line in this exhibition is not a theme, but a shared affect — abrasive, charged, raw, immediate — that lends these works a distinctive sensibility that video does best.

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