Art is the Storyteller. Art is the Documentarian
Above: Omer Fast, 'De grote Boodschap' (The Big Message) (detail), 2007. Production still by Erik De Cnodder. The top screen shot is taken from a video by Omer Fast, shown at the MCA, Denver, until the start of this year from mid-2008. In this piece we are presented with narrative that uses the personal moments of the residents of a building, and alterations in time and situation, to inspect the affects that the media can have on one's intuition and memory. This is an example ... (continued)
Above: Omer Fast, 'De grote Boodschap' (The Big Message) (detail), 2007. Production still by Erik De Cnodder. The top screen shot is taken from a video by Omer Fast, shown at the MCA, Denver, until the start of this year from mid-2008. In this piece we are presented with narrative that uses the personal moments of the residents of a building, and alterations in time and situation, to inspect the affects that the media can have on one's intuition and memory. This is an example of various artists and their work that I have encountered during 2009, whom this article is about; reaching new platforms in documenting events and experiences, whether they be real or staged. Another video piece, made by Omer Fast, was featured at his recent show, Nostalgia, at the South London Gallery. It consisted of three screens in separate rooms. The first two screens document Fast's interview with a refugee talking about his life in his home country and the final screen shows a film, which carries a plot based on information drawn from the interview. The most important topic that is mentioned on screen is a technique of making partridge traps. This piece of knowledge explained to the film maker by the subject is relayed in the narrative, transferring real life experience into a fictional drama. Once I explored this exhibition for a second time I noticed a Pinteresque absurdism in the interview; The interviewer and the subject would frequently confuse each other as a result of pauses, a reluctance to answer probing questions and a sudden steering of the conversation off course. Whether intended or not it's a powerful way of puzzling the viewer and making them think about the truth of the situation taking place before them. From a perceived world of people who come from troubled countries, to one that is all too real, we now look at Jim Goldberg. In his exhibition, Open See, currently on at the Photographers' Gallery, Soho, he tells various stories taken from the primary accounts that he gathered from his travels to areas of the world plagued by poverty and conflict, such as Bangladesh, Liberia and Ukraine. Goldberg's hoarding of information has culminated in a series of mainly Polaroid photographs, with first person accounts and artist's annotations scrawled around them. The second photo shows a man clad in rags, telling us: "I make 68 takas ($1) a day and have despair." As the show progresses there is a mixture of pictures of serene villages and landscapes, with their inhabitants, and ones that are more difficult to bear; a vegetable carrier sleeping in his own basket has the resemblance of the departed, ready for burial; A Ukrainian girl is buried in darkness, partially leaving her face visible, and it becomes more obvious of her victimisation in sex trafficking, as her statement reads, "My life is sick because of what they do to me." The piece that carries the deepest human sentiment is 'Saturday, October 25', a blown up poster of a torn up Polaroid, of a man with a goat in the sea, who according to the accompanying story destroyed it in anger that permission was not given to take his photo. The story then explains that a second man ran along and made an effort to save the photo by sticking it back together. Through a simple display of observant photographs and documentation, this is not exploitation for personal gain or an emotive attack on people's lack of sympathy. It is one of the most moving presentations in the art world and Goldberg delivers messages of his experiences more strongly than anyone else in his field. Another man who relays the human experience in a beautiful form is Jordan Baseman. Website: Link: 1 + 1 = 1 Baseman seeks people out in probing interviews about controversial, sometimes bleak matters in life, such as religion (as shown in the linked film), rape, tragic losses and even impersonating Michael Jackson. These interviews are often set to a minimalist soundtrack, with basic image, still or moving, which draw the viewer into the subjects mind. We feel in touch with these out-of-the-ordinary subjects and we find it so easy to understand the life changing elements of their experiences and beliefs. More and more, Baseman's fascination for human behaviour comes through in his short films and and there is something remarkably touching about his methods, maybe less sinister than the work of other artists who take interest in bizarre anthropological episodes, like Miranda July. Perhaps the most innovative film artist in Britain today, Rosalind Nashashibi explores in great depth the essence of human intuition and crossing the platforms between the staged and the real. Her exhibition at the ICA, which showed from September until November this year, displayed the irresistibly engaging works, Eyeballing, The Prisoner and Jack Straw's Castle. Each in their own unique way, they convey Nashashibi's preoccupation with the pretense, as well as the mundane in daily routines. The artist herself said that, "Iâm interested in going between things being staged and things just being. I like the possibility of crossing between the two and I think that thatâs generally how we exist." It's this merging of the documentary nature with the cinematic that makes her work both visually breath taking and captivating for getting ideas, and inspiration. The realisation of this comes through in the comparison of the authoritarian appearance of the New York police, with the objects that form facial expressions from Eyeballing, the dramatic soundtrack and stalking camera that picks up the public staring at its lens from The Prisoner, and the capturing of cruisers followed by the assembling of a film set in a picturesque park from Jack Straw's Castle. The role of film in the art world has had remarkable developments thanks to the chosen subject matters and methods of the mentioned artists. They all have an obsession as to what dictates the routines of our lives, whether it be the conditions of our societies or just our states of mind.
Omer FastRosalind NashashibiJordan BasemanJim Goldberg