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The Jettisoned at Los Caminos

[uds-billboard name=”thejettisoned”]Is it the silence?  Is it the almost-but-not-quite sense of familiarity? Or, is it the extravagantly detailed sets pointing to the body, religion, and historical events?  Whatever it is about the tableaux vivants of Chicago-based Meredith Zielke and Yoni Goldstein’s painstakingly detailed three-channel video installation entitled The Jettisoned at Los Caminos Gallery, you might not be able to shake it for a while.

The Jettisoned is comprised of three films, each one shot by very slowly panning across a highly detailed scene wherein the ‘actors’ are frozen in intricate poses, only revealing their discomfort here and there with the twitch of a little finger or the blink of an eye.  Three screens are set up in the gallery space, playing the 4-6 minute films on a loop simultaneously on different walls.  Although the films are presented under the title The Jettisoned, the project began as only one – a film set in an industrial soap factory in Chicago, shown in the artists’ MFA show at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago while studying Film Video and New Media.  The initial film than expanded into two more, shot with very similar techniques as the Chicago one, yet in drastically different settings – a historical building in Mexico City and an animal surgical theatre used for students in Warsaw, Poland.

In the Chicago industrial soap factory, the artists’ childhood memories influence the scenes, and, rather naturally, the body features prominently: two people examine a large, bloody cut on a knee; a gloved, quasi-doctor pours liquid into someone’s mouth; a playful-grotesque exchange of water pases from one person’s mouth into another’s.  Childhood itself welcomes the exploration of the body, the touching, picking, and pulling on one’s own self before doing such things to another.  Yet, adults are present here, making the gestures darker and stranger, possibly sexual, dangerous, or distressing as the personal intersects with the public and the institutional.

Contrastingly, the film set in a Mexico City historical building explores broader issues of the melding of cultural identity and national ritual.  An elaborately constructed scene depicts a Mexican man sitting on an altar, dressed in Masonic clothing and surrounded by lots of other people, religious artifacts and flowers set out in “X” and “Y” representative of a “Jewish Gene.” The film points to Judaic rituals that were incorporated into Jewish-Mexican households but lost original cultural symbolism in a country with strong national ties to Catholicism. The film is the most serious of the three, exploring  the weight and difference of cultural and religious ritual and how adding or removing language can altar meaning.  Finally, the strangest and most nuanced location is the Warsaw animal surgical theatre, an institution of learning that requires death and destruction for intellectual growth.  Taxidermy and Styrofoam animals dot the scene of poses and characters inspired from nationalistic paintings but re-cast with current locals, epic only in the way a filmic rendering of traditional large-scale, Salon-winning history painting can be with such a focused large group in a contemporary context.

The setting of an apartment gallery like Los Caminos, as opposed to the more typically encountered white-cube space, allows for the three films to be experienced in a more personal, domestic way.  Being only a couple of feet away from a kitchen creates a spatial contrast only adding to The Jettisoned’s grandiosity of setting and theme, and contribute to a sense of awe at the artists’ altering of time and space.The presence of three accompanying white pedestals for the projectors is a slight, but meaningful change in the showing at Los Caminos, co-director Francesca Wilmott noted.  Adding a sculptural component to the space requires visitors to navigate their body, noticing their own presence and participation and adding an awareness of what they physically, emotionally, and mentally bring to a viewing.

Although their work is clearly critically informed (for example, some of Julia Kristeva’s writings on the abject are quoted in the gallery guide), Zielke and Goldstein’s films refuse any sort of narrow or watered-down analysis. This is because of their visual complexity, but also because of the heavily specific spaces they chose – a natural rebut generalization.  Each space is so definitive, so full of the strangeness of a not-quite-known past that they are fertile ground for the visualization of multifaceted themes like memory, identity, culture, religion, and the body.  And that’s definitely a strength.  The Jettisoned’s heavily researched, well-planned scenes are site and culturally specific while having that crucial element of being personal too, using themes and friends close to the artists’ own identities. The result is an art historically informed powerhouse: the Chicago video brought to mind Jeff Wall’s photography and Cindy Sherman’s doll series; the Mexico City one of a strange and bright Frieda Kahlo self-portrait; and the Warsaw film of a Thomas Eakins medical school painting.  Such a broad base of visual referencing openly welcomes further interpretation, all the while challenging what it means to film, act, and perform culture, religion, and the past.

The Jettisoned continues at Los Caminos Gallery through Thursday, December 22, 2011 from 7-9pm. Los Caminos is located at 2649 Cherokee St, Saint Louis, MO 63118.

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