Dara FriedmanMother Drum,vue d’installation | installation view, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, 2017.
Photo : Tony Prikryl, permission de | courtesy of Aspen Art Museum

Muscular Empathy and Not Knowing in Dara Friedman’s Mother Drum

Michelle Dezember
Dara Friedman grew up in Florida and Germany, moving between worlds. Movement was also present in her childhood through dance — her aunt, a dancer in the Düsseldorf Ballet, invited her to dress rehearsals and encouraged her to take dance lessons. As an adult, Friedman explores the body in motion through film and video works that employ a highly involved process of casting, staging, and editing. Mother Drum (2016), is an exemplar of this practice.

The three-channel video installation plays in a fourteen-minute loop, the beginning and end of which are indiscernible. The intimate angle of a handheld camera captures mid- and close-range film of Indigenous dancers and drummers, whom Friedman met through an open call on PowWows.com. She staged these performances outside of sacred ceremonial events in collaboration with participants at the Swinomish Reservation in Washington, Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho, and Crow Agency Reservation in Montana. Over a constant rhythm of drums, jingles, breaths, and heartbeats, images of the performers jump across the three “screens,” along with mundane images of dancers in regalia walking across a parking lot, a bird wandering through grass, people bathing in shallow waters, a figure leading a horse at night by flashlight, and neon fields of colour. The effect is hypnotic, but at no point can the eye rest on any one image.

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This article also appears in the issue 95 - Empathy

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