Kelly Mark, Public Disturbance

Gabrielle Moser
Diaz Contemporary, Toronto,
February 17 – March 19, 2011
Photo : Toni Hafkenscheid
Diaz Contemporary, Toronto,
February 17 – March 19, 2011
In a larger-than-life-sized video projection, a well-dressed couple, stationed at the edge of a party, begins to discuss where they should go for a meal. Though it begins as a banal, unremarkable conversation, it quickly escalates into a shouting quarrel, drawing the attention of concerned waiters, confused guests and unprepared passers-by. The topic of the disagreement is unimportant; the argument frustratingly circular. The conflict ends only when the male figure, responding to a call on his cell phone, announces that Eddie, an unseen character, has died. The couple leaves the scene, the video ends, only to have another “take” of the same scenario begin again, this time on another wall of the gallery, in a different festive environment, where the dispute recommences.

If the viewing experience of Kelly Mark’s three-part video, Public Disturbance HB Series: Take 1 / Take 2 / Take 3 (2010), sounds remarkably similar to that of Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, it is perhaps a fitting parallel. Mark has long been interested in mining the intersections between film and television culture and our experience of everyday life, often producing labour-intensive and parodic appropriations of popular culture that are nonetheless surprisingly earnest in their approach to their source material. In her 2007 installation REM, Mark created a two-hour mashup of over 170 television clips, edited together according to formal similarities and plotline convergences, which the viewer could watch in one of four “living room” sets. A later installation commissioned for Nuit Blanche, Horroridor (2008), likewise culled scenes from horror and sci-fi movies depicting protagonists screaming, shrieking and recoiling from unseen enemies. 

Much like these previous projects, Public Disturbance draws its script from a popular film, but de-contextualizes the conflict by removing it from its original storyline and relocating it in a contemporary art setting. But while Mark’s earlier works served to demonstrate the congruencies within filmic and televisual genres, despite the nuances between their individual plotlines, this new work points instead to the uncanny ways that human interactions mimic even our most clichéd cultural representations. Taking on the role of producer and director, Mark casts two professional actors to reinterpret the scene in Public Disturbance, but sets the action in the real-life scenarios of exhibition openings, theatre intermissions and social receptions in the Toronto art scene. Through its cyclical unfolding, the artist’s appropriation of a filmic conflict is less a critique of the flat, stereotypical scenarios common to Hollywood productions and instead functions as a nuanced meditation on the charged and awkward social interactions that characterize these spaces. In Mark’s reinterpretation of an all-too-familiar scenario, the “public disturbance” is no longer disturbing for the conflict it enacts, but for the way it operates as a symptom of broader cultural dynamics in which both artist and viewer play parts.

Gabrielle Moser, Kelly Mark
This article also appears in the issue 72 - Curators

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