Monday, February 21, 2022 at 7pm
Les Levine's The Troubles: An Artist’s Document of Ulster

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

The Troubles: An Artist’s Document of Ulster, Les Levine, 1972, digital projection, 50 mins

Les Levine’s exhibition The Troubles: An Artist’s Document of Ulster opened in the Contemporary Wing of the Finch College Museum of Art on December 12, 1972. The venue was known for vanguard presentations—a few years earlier it hosted the seminal exhibition Projected Art—but Levine’s show offered something new, even by the most advanced metrics of contemporary work: a seemingly artless information environment about the political situation in Northern Ireland. The primary exhibition space featured large photographs and audio recordings documenting daily life amidst the Troubles while a side gallery doubled as an ersatz torture chamber, complete with high-frequency sound. (A separate niche displayed a collection of folk art by political prisoners.) The centerpiece of the show, however, screening twice daily at 2pm and 4pm, was a fifty-minute 16mm film, also entitled The Troubles: An Artist’s Document of Ulster. Quite unlike other artist films of the period, it cross-pollinates cinéma vérité with the nightly news, mixing on-the-scene images with a collaged soundtrack of field recordings, statistical data, and pertinent history.

Rarely seen after its premiere in 1972, Levine’s effort stands on its own as a tautly constructed cinematic experience. Watching The Troubles today, it reads as sharp pivot in Levine’s career. Throughout much of the 1960s he played the roles of trickster and savant, renowned for projects that detailed the art world as a system and sketched the effects of media on our understanding of the work of art. In many ways these activities were diagrammatic, even formal; then suddenly, with the turn of the 70s, Levine challenged the tenets of his method (and perhaps some of the utopian dreams of the 60s) with a project swamped in content. While there are precedents in the artist’s practice, ”real life” returns with a vengeance in The Troubles, especially for a Warholian figure who identified as a “plastic artist” in more ways than one. The artist’s turn to subject matter, however, did not lead to an embrace of activism: his investigation of the Troubles is notably non-partisan, personal, and humanist. Considering the consequences of such a position—both for political change and our understanding of the work of art—seems particularly relevant today, some fifty years after Levine’s striking, and overlooked, intervention.

- AK

Followed by a conversation with Levine and Alex Kitnick.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($8 suggested donation), available at door, cash and cards accepted.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served.

Monday Night Books will be open before the screening, from 6-7pm.