January 30. - March 10. 2004
Offensive für zeitgenössische Kunst und Kommunikation
Torstrasse 161, 10115 Berlin Mitte
Opening hours: Wed-Fr 4-7 PM Sa 2-6 PM
Photos from the exhibition opening
Going to the edge, or optimizing something beyond expectations in order to find different kinds of truth: this is the logic that ties together the works of these four artists from the USA and Denmark. push the envelope! assesses various displacements in culture that frustrate reality and subjectivity and render them unstable. A trait common among the artists' works is a simultaneous gaze on the historical and the everyday event: subjective micro-narrative meets the larger time span of global events. The works in the exhibition go beyond the documentary, through various strategies of dramatization, narration, and manipulation, to create a kind of bouncing effect in time and space, and, in this way, come to grips with notions of an elsewhere. The artists thus seek limit conditions and radicalize attempts at interpretation.
In Maryam Jafri''s "Theatre" (Video, 2001), the artist plays two characters who can be seen as distinct people and also as different sides of the same self. The two characters complete each other's sentences, reliving a moment when both, or perhaps only one, first came on stage. What happens onstage parallels what happens offstage; what happens backstage influences what happens onstage. Physical and mental space collapse into one, allowing the backstage world to function in part (but not only) as a metaphor for the unconscious. In the video, however, no stage is ever seen, time and place are presented solely through language. The language hovers between speech and thought, collapsing stage directions (i.e. "I enter," "I turn to the left," etc.), internal thoughts ("I'm nervous"), and conventional stage dialogue into one text, giving the narrative its labyrinthine structure.
Valerie Tevere's "Two City Tour" (Video, 2002/2003) is comprised of two videos (excerpted from her works "Palm Trees on Madison Avenue" and "Vertical City on the 101") that explore projections of urbanity and how the formation of two US cities is shaped in the collective imagination. "Two City Tour" locates Los Angeles in New York and New York in Los Angeles. The 'bi-coastal' journey follows threads of travel through NYC and LA, complicating the myths of each city. Each video follows a distinct route produced by different mapping techniques. In one video, the maps are derived from the NYC and LA phonebooks: the artist searched the NYC phonebook and interviewed businesses named after LA. Then, in LA, she did the opposite, setting up interviews with businesses named after NYC. Through the operation of naming, these commercial entities function on nostalgia and dislocation, and from one place they refer to another whose imagined essence has been packaged for consumption. In the second video, the maps are produced according to the perceptions of NY and LA residents who have never visited the other city. Together, Tevere and interviewee, travel to locations in NYC and LA that reference a LA or NY only visited in the interviewee's mediated imagination.
Lars Mathisen's short film, "Document in the Past Perfect" (Video, 1994/2004), frames 20th-Century ideologies and dreams of liberation, using found footage. "Document in the Past Perfect" presents an account of the period between 1932 1985, juxtaposing two different films in a montage format. One is the 18mm home footage of an unknown Danish family, taken before and after WW2. A deadpan camera registers happy holiday moments, the Berlin Olympics (1936), and the World Exhibition in Paris (1937). Subsequently, and with the same lack of involvement, we see the liberation of Denmark in May 1945. The second film is a first generation erotic movie, shot in 1972. The film shows a student's party developing into carnality. The actors' unworried frolicking, conveying an air of unselfconscious innocence, reflects the liberating promises of this newly legalized pornography. The entire montage is accompanied by the obsessive rant of the convicted murderer Charles Manson, who projects his messianic views from his prison cell. Through its anti-dramatic slide from normality to perversion, "Document in the Past Perfect" implicitly challenges the 20th-Century welfare state's promise of freedom to its citizens.
Matthew Buckingham's "The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 500,002 C.E." (Text & photo, 2002) considers the historical and future conditions of one of America's most iconic symbols of patriotism: Mount Rushmore. The monument, massive portraits of four American presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln) carved into the mountain that the Sioux called the Six Grandfathers, memorializes the birth, growth, and development of the USA. The work comprises a black and white photograph and a timeline, both of which imagine the monument's distant future. Buckingham digitally altered the photograph of Mount Rushmore to portray its appearance five hundred thousand years from now. The result sustains a tension between fantasy and reality, as the four presidential heads are erased by the mountain's slow erosion. By transferring current anxieties about democracy and belonging onto a projected future landscape, Buckingham addresses the irony of Mount Rushmore's return to a more-or-less natural state. The timeline exposes some of the hidden and more obvious details of Mount Rushmore's contested history. Buckingham's timeline offers a panoramic historical view of the paradoxes generated by such sites and symbols, unraveling suppressed or distorted accounts of violent conflict from the past and the present. It is telling, for instance, that the Shrine of Democracy, as Rushmore was officially designated, was carved out of sacred land taken illegally from the Sioux, and executed by an artist who had been a secret but active member of the Ku Klux Klan.