08 March 2008

Contemporary Art: Catherine Sullivan

At long last, I visited the new ICA in Boston - it was nearly empty, so I got to enjoy the pristine glass-and-metal forms of the architecture. (Unfortunately, I was less impressed by the current exhibition, with a few exceptions.) For such a large structure, isn't it odd that only the fourth floor is used as gallery space? I must be spoiled by Mass MoCA.

If you enjoy contemporary art, you might enjoy seeing Catherine Sullivan's video installation of "The Chittendens," clips of which I had seen on PBS's Art:21 series and also down in Chelsea... If a non-artist like me keeps bumping into something unusual like this, perhaps I should suspend disbelief and try to understand it, right?

As described by Heinrich von Kleist in the Feb. 2006 Artforum, "For this group of films, the artist asked sixteen actors to execute scripted sequences of what she calls "attitudes"--behavioral cues ranging from the emotive catatonia and melancholic loss to the physical bayonet in the back, golf swing, and speech to the senate--and to repeat this limited vocabulary of movements precisely. Yet as Sullivan's players engage these choreographies against the backdrop of modernday offices--the scene for a more abstract sort of control and role-playing--the actors' stutters, seizures, and spasms seem to speak more to psychosis than standardization."

Although I spend a fair amount of time looking at and reading about today's artists, I still have little confidence in writing about them, so I'll point you to three places that show and describe it:

(1) Videos of her work, archived at Art:21. If WMV files don't run on your computer, notice that you can click buttons for "quicktime" at the top of the window.

(2) Composer Sean Griffin's web page about "The Chittendens."

(3) A clip provided by the Tate.

Yes, there's a fine line between art that's "hokey" and well-executed, and perhaps that line is thinner if you don't spend a lot of time around this stuff. But when I saw "The Chittendens" projected on a giant screen, in the dark, I guess it just really grabbed me.


ps You might also enjoy: these four video clips of Hubband and Bircher, in which seemingly straightforward dialogues and situations can't really be read as such, and Laurie Anderson's introduction to one of the Art:21 series.

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