A little leap of faith & a visit to P.S. 1
I spent the afternoon at PS 1. I went by myself. It was very quiet and peaceful, a handful of other people floating through the galleries.
I usually do not like video installation, but two of the stronger pieces were by an Albanian artist named Adrian Paci, who was forced to leave his country during political upheaval. One installation has a short video of his daughter singing folk songs. On a facing screen, a group of elderly relatives who are still in Albania sing verses in response. Another piece by Paci shows old men in an Albanian town turning on generators. Each sits on a wide staircase, holding a lightbulb powered by a generator. It's simple & beautiful.
I didn't like Stephen Shore's "American Surfaces" - dozens and dozens of small photographs of everyday objects and ordinary people, photographed without pretense. Although the accompanying text claimed that he found beauty in the ordinary, I thought it was kind of sad and depressing. The portraits were interesting - the people aren't beautiful, aren't photographed at their most beautiful, but they have a kind of life to them. You see that these objects, rooms, meals, and other surfaces belonged to real people, and you know that the people photographed are likely long dead, their belongings cleaned up and thrown out. It just reminded me that life is really short, and that the things that are precious to us, and the ordinary objects that make our homes comfortable, are likely to appear trivial and ugly to others, later.
Upstairs, a large gallery and several surrounding rooms had been taken over by Jon Kessler's "The Palace at 4 am." This is an intense piece of art. It is also fascinating, disturbing, funny, and occasionally beautiful. It's hard to describe what Kessler does: he builds these machines that move and turn cameras so that they point at different images, which may themselves be moving, and sometimes at the viewers, and the images captured are projected elsewhere in the exhibit. There's a lot of imagery of soldiers and violence, some pop culture iconography, landscapes cut open and geometric patterns moving through the slashed areas. The machines tick and whir. It's too much to take in, but you see yourself on a screen, or you see the entrance you just walked through, and you start looking for the camera, and you begin to see how the images are created. I think that's part of the point, where in our homes we get the finished products of media - tv, radio, internet - in his exhibit you see how it is all put together, how real life can be combined with constructed images and how it all can be distorted and manipulated.
One wall had a series of small cameras pointing through pieces of metal, each about the size of a piece of paper, but twisted and cut. Near each was a tiny video screen. As you moved in front of the piece, you'd see on the screen what appeared to be a large sculpture with a movie star or other pop image painted on it, and then you'd see yourself peering through the gaps in the sculpture. It's hard to describe, but it was fascinating, fun to play with.
But my favorite pieces - and the only work I saw that was without question beautiful - were photographs by a Dutch artist, who now lives in the US, Ari Marcopoulos. He photographed his children, growing up in Northern California, and his wife, and the ocean in Hokkaido, Japan, in winter. The photographs are large, the color lush and soothing. The photographs of the ocean made me realize just how accurately Japanese artists have drawn the waves in wall hangings that I've seen - curling, white-tipped, dark, dark blue beneath. The best of all is a picture of his son, standing in a riverbed, shiny black rocks beneath his feet, blue-green leaves all around him, his arms outstretched and head thrown back, wearing black feather wings. It is gorgeous. I could stare at that picture for hours.