Deeper Structures

Video still, Hearts are Trump Again, 2010, Dani (Leventhal) ReStack.
Video still, Audisne, 2014, Earcatcher.

Deeper Structures

SPACES Gallery, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015

Earcatcher (collective), Yvonne Carmichael, Dani Leventhal, Jibade-Khalil Huffman

Exhibition text: He’s Coming to Bring me the Sperm

I’m watching Jibade-Khalil Huffman’s film trailer The Pterodactyls (2015), and trying to figure out the connection between the diver striding confidently towards the end of the diving board, and Tatum O’Neal, proto child star, in a scene from 1978 coming-of-age sequel (already a copy), International Velvet, as one scene dissolves into another. O’Neal is immaculate and smiling, the diver is diving. Is this the connection? A smile on the point of breaking, at the moment when it goes from a reaching smile to a grimace, when the expectation of success suddenly falters (at its apex, the dive is going suddenly, splashily wrong). Losing it. This being now, we watch endless replays of the pain of defeat at 400 fps.

Tatum O’Neal dissolves into an extended montage of film trailer clips — Forrest Gump, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Con Air, The Pelican Brief, and many others. The characters seem to nod knowingly to each other, across genre, and across story. These films form the invisible pop-culture scaffold of a reality we have all agreed upon; they represent a language, a currency, share a pre 9/11 sense of nostalgia. In this film trailer, the narrative (like the smile) breaks down, degrades, becoming illegible, hysterical. These fragments alternate with basic screen saver style graphics (tumbling stars a la 1999), and then there is a clip from an ABC special program in which Patti Labelle is acknowledged but invisible. In which her image is not visible, not represented; erased. The Pterodactyls is a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist.

There is another kind of nostalgia at play in Yvonne Carmichael’s The Ballad of the Rawson Sisters in which performers silently re enact the repeated gestures of shop workers in Bradford, in the North of England, where many shops at the center of town stand empty. Carmichael imagines the ghosts of spanx-clad, manicured female shop workers, abstracting the gestures and repetitive acts of folding, restocking, hanging, in a choreographed folk tale that memorializes the once busy past of these spaces. We never see a face – just feet, legs, hands. Feet which stand all day in heels; hands that elegantly perform; mild fetishization.

Artist collective Earcatcher work within strict narrative parameters, using sound as a generative seed around which mysterious, playful, and disjointed stories are developed; all restricted to a One is made each month; as they accumulate, narrative threads appear. The camera takes us on a trip to the mall, watches a game of rounders, the spinning of a penny; a woman waits outside a convenience store. They are often acted, but sometimes, as with Out (2015), document everyday events. They are infused with place – all are filmed in around Columbus, Ohio, but despite their brevity and simplicity, their framing, composition and coloring in post production results in a filmic treatment of the everyday, with a Midwestern-gothic sensibility. They have the high soft sheen of “the movies”; tiny films in which the everyday is elevated to hollywood status.

Dani Leventhal’s Hearts are Trumps Again (2012) begins with a montage of scenes. Hair, (shining, black) tumbles over shoulders; pigeons (scruffy, scrappy), pile into a hole in a roof, a scuffle breaks out, the pecking order is challenged/asserted; the camera cuts to a bedroom crowded with two twin beds. Gas station coffee in a styrofoam cup upon a red carpet; basic comforts. A halfway house; last port of call in a storm. Then we are outside and Leventhal is interviewing a young woman, “Nina”, wearing yellow plastic earrings. It looks to be about 45 degrees Fahrenheit in a Northern European city; this shot has the feel of a BBC2 documentary or exposé. She says: “I’m just sitting here waiting for my donor. He’s coming to bring me the sperm”. Nina breaks character and makes eye contact, cracking up at one of Leventhal’s questions – what looks like documentary is staged, our narrator unreliable.

In Leventhal’s work, what appears at first to be a formal exercise in free-­‐association gradually reveals itself as something else-­‐not playing straight, less story, and more discourse. Less film, and more sculpture, made up of narrative fragments. Cut to a brief excerpt of Ana Mendieta’s 1972 performance Untitled (Chicken Piece Shot #2), in which the artist stands naked, holding a decapitated chicken as it bleeds all over her. Ana Mendieta, most definitely not faking it.