Loretta Fahrenholz: Ditch Plains
Project Native Informant
5 September - 12 October 2013
Review by Kathryn Lloyd
Loretta Fahrenholz is a Berlin-based filmmaker and curator. Her latest film, ‘Ditch Plains’ (currently on show at Project Native Informant), is 31 minutes in length and, at the artist’s request, is screened when a viewer enters the gallery. The gallery itself is far from a white cube space, but instead resembles a claustrophobic, inky black garage. This environment, with its cold stone interior, is perfectly suited to Fahrenholz’s abstruse apocalyptic film.
The exhibition press release begins with an ominous supposition: ‘Something terrible has befallen New York: a natural disaster, a cyber attack, a mass-possession of souls’’ While this is ostensibly vague, the differentiation between these notions becomes redundant as the film progresses; the origin of the terror is unclear and irrelevant. Instead, Fahrenholz investigates the primitive manner in which terror manifests, and its post-hoc representation and subsequent consumption.
Fahrenholz’s opening scenes consciously mirror those now standardised by ‘The Apocalypse Movie’; the dead litter the streets in the guise of those still sleeping; the camera lingers on the significant absence of human presence. Amidst this quiet chaos, dancers Ringmasters Corey, Jay Donn and Marty McFly improvise scenes which suggest digital death matches, stop-and-frisk situations and dictatorial confrontations. They move together, often with clear indications of violence, but they never touch, their bodies always millimetres apart. They are differentiated by neon tubing; some wear it like tribal makeup. The dead are without. This is the closest one gets to classification between two sides; the division of ‘the others’ and ‘us’.
‘Ditch Plains’ employs a voice-over narrative which further subscribes to the disaster movie prototype. However, it often verges on the indecipherable. Snippets of speech rise from a sea of pixelated noise: ‘I want to wake up with a smile on my face and be able to say I love what I do ... Whoever the fuck you are ... I just want to say I love you. I love you and goodbye ... Was it a political act’’ Beyond these fragments, wherever the narrative feels like it is garnering importance, it becomes obfuscated - not overtly, but the words bleed into one another, evading any categorical understanding.
Throughout the film, the dancers’ beautifully choreographed barbarity is inter-spliced with documentary shots of Far Rockaway, depicting the city’s attempt to manage the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Fahrenholz’s blurring of distinction between real-life disaster and abstract terror emphasises the way in which one understands the notion of ‘The Apocalypse’. Through our curious obsession with dystopian fantasies of destruction, ‘The Apocalyptic’ has transcended specificity, and come to exist as an abstract notion ripe for media consumption. The reality of terror is now experienced through a frame provided by Hollywood spectacle.
Set in the night-time streets, hotel hallways and posh apartments of New York, ‘Ditch Plains’ is a knowing and unsettling film. Farhenholz adopts the disaster movie paradigm, but deliberately eschews fundamental elements, forcing attention on the way in which terror is consumed as spectacle before it is acknowledged as reality.