The computer screen: the only gallery left open during lockdown. We’re glued to laptops and their infinite possibilities – but they also have a few obvious limitations. So how do galleries render art that is both authentic and innovative in this paradox? Showing films are at the front of the queue – we can choose to pause, re-watch, fast-forward at our own pace, which we can’t do in a gallery. ‘AP: Assembled Personalities’ for gallery Kadist, is an online exhibition of film that, as the title suggests, addresses the identities of five artists: Guy Ben-Ner, Keren Cytter, Alex Da Corte, Mark Leckey, and Li Ran. The artists fictionalise their habitual surroundings: their homes, studios or galleries. We the viewers watch on, escaping our own realities, if only for a few minutes.
In Alex Da Corte’s ‘Slow Graffiti’ (2017), the artist is guised as actor Boris Karloff playing a version of Frankenstein’s monster, frantically trying to appease his watching narrator in a gaudy mise en scène of incongruous objects and colours. Encouraging the viewer to sympathise with the notorious brute, Frankenstein here is infantilised, as he calls to the screen, “Why did you leave me?”. His helplessness suggests that monsters deserve our empathy too. Li Ran’s lengthy film ‘Beyond Geography’(2012) documents the artist and a traveller on a supposed worldly adventure; but the set and artist’s studio are virtually bare – the blue-painted walls behind leaving little to the imagination. The ad-hoc nature of this film is a glaring reminder that props offer context to the madness of imagination, one of the successes of Da Corte’s film.
Guy Ben-Ner’s, ‘Wild Boy’ (2004) traces the endearing kinship between the artist and his son. Staged in his flat, the room resembles a makeshift forest with tree branches, occupied by a wandering bunny. Unlike Li Ran’s attempt, Ben-Ner’s video seems fully cognisant of its slapdash approach: the fridge becoming a large book as pages, pots, and pans doubling as a drum kit. Ben-Ner suggests the mutability of these familiar objects – or altered personality even. The fragmented scenes in ‘Wild Boy’ are reminiscent of Keren Cytter’s work ‘Untitled’ (2009) too, where actors play out psychological struggles in a tumultuous repetitive loop, enacted behind the scenes and on stage. Our position as viewer behind the curtain becomes arduous to follow as the film unfolds – the embroiled mess across multiple perspectives supplanting our engagement with it.
At a moment when virtual white shoe-boxes have quickly become the norm as galleries use software like Matterport to convert themselves for online viewing – Mark Leckey’s ‘Made in Heaven’ (2004) is a reminder of the laptop screen’s peculiarity as a venue. Leckey’s camera doubles as flickering eyes looking at a Jeff Koons silver rabbit in a desolate gallery. His eyes ominously orbit the sculpture silently, casting no reflection – the way we do when watching these films from our screens, alone. The lack of a reflection, oddly, encourages reflection.
With their solitary figures and interior settings, the five films of ‘AP: Assembled Personalities’, made across two decades, might in lockdown have finally found their moment.