An Interesting Show at Bard College

This month we took a group of Harvard graduate students and Film Study Center fellows to see an exhibition at Bard College's Center for Curatorial Studies called Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art. We attended a talk by Walid Raad, and had a personal walkthrough of the show with curator Maria Lind.

The exhibition includes hundreds of works in photography, film, video, and installation in which artists use documentary practices to try to "touch 'the real'," as Lind explains in the exhibition guide.

I was especially moved by Yael Bartana's installation Summer Camp, in which she depicts Israeli, Palestinian, and international volunteers rebuilding destroyed Palestinian houses in the occupied territories - juxtaposed with a soundtrack drawn from Zionist propaganda films of the 1930s and 40s. The main video is projected right onto the bare plywood walls of the installation, which emit a smell that puts you in the space of the new houses. In one corner a Zionist film plays on a small monitor. I think the installation is a nice execution of a strong concept.

I also enjoyed several pieces that artistically recreate documents from important events. In My Neck is Thinner than a Hair: Engines, Walid Raad/Atlas Group impeccably cropped, printed, framed, and labeled 100 photographs of car engines blasted into neighborhoods in Lebanon by car bombs between 1975 and 1991. As in Raad's other work, the boundaries between fact and fiction are blurred as the provenance and authenticity of some of the photographs are in question. Nathan Coley's Lockerbie Witness Box and Lockerbie Evidence recreate evidence from the trial of the two Libyans accused of bombing Pan Am flight 103. For Inbox, Palestinian artist Emily Jacir meticulously handpainted dozens of personal, political, and spam emails she sent and received over the course of five years.

I was somewhat inexplicably entranced by Mark Raidpere's video installation 10 Men, which projects an 8-minute loop of 10 inmates in an Estonian prison simply posing for the camera one by one in front of a blue wall, to an accompanying music box melody.  My colleagues and I had a lively discussion about whether this piece abused or exploited its subjects - and whether the piece would have been as captivating had they not been prison inmates.

The works and our conversations made it clear that the exhibition takes very much an art-world perspective on the documentary form.  The show limits itself to presenting the use of documentary practices by artists - as defined by curators of museums, art shows, and galleries. There were thousands of works to consider in this category, and it makes for a rich show. But coming from the documentary film tradition myself, I felt the absence of reference to the 150-plus years of photography, film, and video using these practices. It was as if the artists in the show had "discovered" the use of observation, interviews, archival material, recreations, and sound juxtapositions; yet documentary artists have been using, and subverting, these forms for a long time.

I realize that the breadth of documentary history was beyond the scope of this exhibit, also because the show focused on contemporary artists. It's just interesting to feel the palpable division between the art world and the film/video world - despite the fact that many filmmakers consider themselves artists, and many artists make films.

In any case, the show was really interesting and we all learned a lot.  Plus, we had a delicious dinner afterwards at Terrapin Restaurant in nearby Rhinebeck.

60.30.1 Opening


The 60.30.1 Installation opened at Harvard University today - in fact, we set the whole thing up today.  Dean Michael Smith officially launched the show, along with Jacqueline Bhabha of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies and several student groups.  It was freezing cold but the hot chocolate and the moving images of the animation kept us warm.

I learned a lot putting this together, both conceptually and logistically.


60.30.1 Light Installation opens Dec. 8, 5pm

I have been busily working the past month or two on an 11-site installation over three campuses of Harvard University.  60.30.1 commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 30 articles of the Declaration will be projected onto buildings in Harvard Yard, Harvard Law School, and Harvard's Kennedy School from 5-10pm on December 8-10.  On the side of Widener Library there will be a short animation co-directed and animated by Norah Solorzano that depicts the entire document.

We've used a stenciled spray paint look to simulate graffiti on the buildings - representing how it has become subversive to talk about basic rights which should be guaranteed to everyone.

I am the project's artistic director, and it is produced by the University Committee on Human Rights Studies, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and the Film Study Center (of which I am Interim Assistant Director).  Special thanks to Steven Brzozowski from the Carr Center, Lauren Herman from UCHRS, and Greg Morrow from Media Services for all their hard work.

Please come to the official launch of the installation at 5pm on Monday, December 8 outside Widener Library (Harvard Yard, Cambridge).  Prof. Jacqueline Bhabha (Director, UCHRS) will kick off a week of events and activities around the Declaration's 60th Anniversary. Refreshments will be served. 

Click here for more information about Harvard's activities around the anniversary.

25th & Mission to Play at Boston Asian American Film Festival October 24

My short film “25th & Mission” (7 min, 2007) is playing at the Boston Asian American Film Festival on Friday, October 24 at 8:00pm at Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, located in Josiah Quincy School, 90 Tyler Street in Boston’s Chinatown. It will be part of a program called “Good Things Come in Small Packages" (Click here for tickets).  Here’s a description of the piece:

What begins as abstract fields of color gradually emerges to be a portrait of four tiny shops in a block of San Francisco’s Mission district. They are as diverse as the community around them: a Chinese-run laundry, a Salvadoran hair salon, a hipster tattoo parlor, an art gallery.  As the camera hovers inches from its subjects, we realize that the seemingly disparate shops are linked not only by their location but also by their inhabitants’ loving attention to the beautification of the varied surfaces they work with.

DUALITIES Show at Swell Gallery, San Francisco

My first-ever video installation is up in the "Dualities" show at Swell Gallery on the graduate campus of San Francisco Art Institute, 2565 Third Street, San Francisco. The opening reception is Saturday, August 2, 3-5pm. My piece is a pilot installation for a larger work based on my "Lalita" film - beginning to explore the different types of documentation in Lalita's life (including medical scans).  I travelled with my subject to India a few weeks ago to visit her 89-year-old mother, which was quite an experience.  I'm seeing a pattern in my films, that every serious work I've made involves some kind of return to a homeland.