Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 7:30pm in our NEW SPACE
Rites of Return

Whether it is the bones immured in the Syrian fortifications, a word whose form or use reveals a custom, a narrative written by the witness of some scene, ancient or modern, what do we really mean by document, if it is not a “track,” as it were – the mark, perceptible to the senses, which some phenomenon, in itself inaccessible, has left behind?
- Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft

Little by little, belief became polluted, like the air and the water. The motive energy, always resistant but manipulable, finally begins to run out. People notice at the same time that no one knows what it is.
- Michel de Certeau, “Believing and Making People Believe”

This evening features three artists whose work is linked by its situation on the ever-shifting border between documentary investigation, aesthetic contemplation, and critical play. Formed by travels in war-torn and storm-ravaged sites beyond the ken of CNN, the film, video, and visual art of Liza Johnson, Julia Meltzer and David Thorne, and Michael Rakowitz offers a compelling vision of contemporary history between dreamworld and catastrophe. The recent and in-progress work presented tonight retrieves real and imagined artifacts from these ruins, creating, in the process, gestural and memorial ruins of another kind. And they testify to the enduing power, in a secular age, of the rituals of “believing and making people believe,” a power that haunts and inspires the work of documentary art in the age of mechanical destruction.

Works to be presented in whole or in part include:

Searching Ruins on Broadway for Dead Bodies, Galveston
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., producer, Albert E. Smith (USA, 1900)

Morro Castle, Havana Harbor
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., producer and cameraman, William Paley (USA, 1898)
"The photograph is excellent; and in view of a probable bombardment, when the old-fashioned masonry will melt away like butter under the fire of 13-inch guns, the view is of historic value." - Edison film catalogue

It’s Not My Memory of It: Three Recollected Documents
Julia Meltzer and David Thorne (USA, 2003)

there is no time like the present
Julia Meltzer and David Thorne with Rami Farah, (Syria/USA, work-in-progress)

South of Ten
Liza Johnson (USA, 2007)
“One of the rare works of film or visual art made in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to look beyond the devastation of New Orleans, South of Ten is a small gem of a film that opens our eyes to the possibilities of other images, and other meanings, of this American tragedy. It catalogues a set of ordinary people and extraordinary actions - carrying a toilet, finding a trombone, lifting a house - by Mississippi survivors of the flooding, capturing the charmed and terrible nature of survival. Without uttering a word, South of Ten asks: after all, what does it mean to act?” - Jonathan Kahana

Michael Rakowitz (USA, 2006)

Plus other works...

To be followed by a discussion with the artists and Jonathan Kahana.

Liza Johnson is an artist and filmmaker. Her work has been exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and film festivals, including the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, and the Centre Pompidou, as well as the New York, Berlin, and Rotterdam Film Festivals, among many others. She has been a fellow of the DAAD Berliner Kunstlerprogramm and the Sundance Institute, and has published a number of articles and interviews about art and film. Johnson is Associate Professor of Art at Williams College.

Jonathan Kahana is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University, where he is co-director of the graduate Certificate program in Culture and Media. He is the author of Intelligence Work: The Politics of American Documentary (Columbia UP, 2008), and of articles on documentary and avant-garde film, cultural theory, and American film and television history, published or forthcoming in Afterimage, Camera Obscura, Film Quarterly, Millennium Film Journal, and Social Text. He is the editor of a forthcoming anthology on the history of documentary film, and of “What Now? Re-enactment in Contemporary Documentary Film, Video, and Performance,” a dossier of critical work forthcoming in Framework: The Journal of Film and Media.

Michael Rakowitz is a Chicago-based installation and public artist. His work has appeared in venues worldwide including P.S.1, MoMA, MassMOCA, Castello di Rivoli, Sharjah Biennial 8, Tirana Biennale, National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt, and Transmediale 05 in Berlin. He has had solo exhibitions at Lombard-Freid Projects in New York, Alberto Peola Arte Contemporanea in Torino, and Stadtturmgalerie/Kunstraum Innsbruck. He is the recipient of a Sharjah Biennial Jury's Award, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the Dena Foundation Award, and the Design 21 Grand Prix from UNESCO. Rakowitz is an Associate Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University.

Julia Meltzer and David Thorne produce videos, photographs, and installations. From 1999 to 2003, their projects centered on secrecy, history, and memory. Current works focus on the ways in which visions of the future are imagined, claimed, and realized or relinquished, specifically in relation to faith and global politics. Recent projects have been exhibited at Steve Turner Contemporary (Los Angeles), the Walraff-Richartz Museum (Köln), Argos Center for Art and Media (Brussels), the Wexner Center (Columbus, Ohio), the 2008 Whitney Biennial, the 2006 California Biennial, Akbank Sanat Gallery (Istanbul), Apex Art (New York), and as part of the Hayward Gallery's (London) traveling exhibition program. Video work has been screened at Homeworks IV (Beirut), the International Film Festival Rotterdam, The New York Video Festival, the Margaret Mead Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival, among many others.

Tickets - $7, available at door.

Support for this event was provided, in part, by the Experimental Television Center's Presentation Funds Program, which is supported by the New York State Council on the Arts, a public agency.