Spread across two of the BALTIC’s vast floors, ‘Present Continuous’ sees the former flour mill’s white open spaces enveloped in darkness to house seven of Omer Fast’s cinematic works.
Drawing inspiration from short fiction, Fast combines multiple narratives to create serpentine tales that delve into both cultural and political taboos. Yet, as they traverse the powerful social themes upon which they pivot, each becomes an intimate portrait, exploring how identity is constructed and performed. Throughout the exhibition, fact and fiction regularly intertwine, cultivating a sense of intrigue that draws the viewer ever deeper in to the distorted world Fast has created. As visitors pursue truth and resolution, the flickering lights of each video installation guide their way; through pitch-black theatres, concealed corridors and hidden rooms, but never towards what they seek. For as Fast has previously said, he prefers his audience to have “productive confusion” rather than clear understanding.
With over four hours of footage on display, most will not get to view each work its entirety. However, because each video is continuously looped with no set arc, and narratives are invariably repeated and reenacted to inflect new meaning, interpretations and conclusions will often be idiosyncratic to each viewing. This is particularly pertinent for ‘Continuity’, a forty-minute fictitious story which recounts the homecoming of a German soldier to his parents and their family home. Projected in a cavernous room, devoid of light, it feels as though you are on the outskirts of reality, perversely gazing back in to spy on the personal trauma of this troubled family. Unease grows as the story repeats, with the couple returning to pick up different men from the train station, who all perform the role of their son. As debauched and sinister acts take place, each recount warps the narrative further, tensions build and it becomes increasingly unclear as to what is unfolding. The recurring drama is then interjected by the appearance of an equivocal camel, which leads the parents to a macabre battlefield that pays homage to Jeff Wall’s ‘Dead Troops Talk’, in what could be considered the climax of the story; though for some it may be the beginning. Continuously repeated, the work conveys the inevitable consequences of war indicating that the trauma it inflicts can never be fully resolved.
Continuing the theme of warfare, ‘A Tank Translated’ is a series of interviews with an Israeli tank team exploring the peripheral world view that their vehicle offers and the relationship it has with its environment. All the while, the subtitled translation mutates and redirects their meaning. Shown on small television screens, they illuminate a dark corridor that leads to a further room where ‘Spring’ is being displayed. Commissioned particularly for this exhibition it expands the fictional world of ‘Continuity’ and is presented across five screens that provide counter-shots, and serve to tell overlapping narratives that move back and forth through time. Furthering the themes of loss and recovery, new characters are introduced that lend scope to Fast’s portrait of a family debased by perversion.
‘CNN Concatenated’ is the only work not displayed in darkness. Displayed just outside of the rest of the exhibition, it draws on a ten thousand-word database of recordings from CNN in order to create a monologue with shifting undertones of emotion. Following four adult film performers over a twenty-four hour period, ‘Everything that Rises Must Converge’ undermines the facade of a porn star by presenting a banal portrait of their day. ‘Looking Pretty For God’ delves into the working lives of funeral directors as they describe how they prepare the deceased for viewing, juxtaposing the audio interviews with footage of children at a photo shoot to create conflicting connotations that disconcerts the mind.
Commanding a huge space, ‘5,000 Feet is the Best’ is arguably the most compelling piece in the exhibition. Elegantly shot, it shows a reenactment of an interview Fast conducted with a US military drone pilot in a Las Vegas hotel room. Donning a flight suit every day and entering a shipping container in the middle of the Nevada desert, Fast explores the role the pilot performs as the camera provides aerial shots of Las Vegas and an idyllic American town, slowly zooming in like an incoming missile. Fascinating in its own right, the dialogue wanders to fictional stories that play out on screen, which covertly replace confidential topics that the pilot did not want disclosed. Like his other work, Fast manipulates time and representation to confound conventional structures. In an era where the visual image has come to dominate society, his work reveals the capricious nature of this reliance and the tenuous divide between representation and reality.