Time and Space

Amy Taubin on New Frontier at Sundance

Milk+Koblin (Chris Milk & Aaron Koblin), The Wilderness Downtown, 2010, still from an interactive film.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a space makes. For four years, the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier section struggled along in the basement of Park City’s Main Street shopping mall. Installations and performances were scattered around an early-1970s disco-styled lounge. Not much of a showcase for the work that Sundance—the Festival and the Institute—has dubbed “transmedia,” and which it views as a purchase on the future. This year, New Frontier has claimed the old Miner’s Hospital, a compound of three historic buildings, easy to spot from the buses shunting festival goers from one theater to another. For the first time, New Frontier curator Shari Frilot has a venue in which she can put together a coherent show, and she has come through with smarts and élan. (Many of the pieces are being shown simultaneously at the Salt Lake Art Center in Salt Lake City.)

With its exterior painted crimson and its four-floor twisty interior subdivided by black drapes, the largest of the three buildings suggests an amusement park’s haunted house; the ghosts are projections of an entirely mediated reality. In the front yard, half buried in the snow, the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s installation We Like America and America Likes Us (The Corpse) finds a site more suitable to its vision of used-car-lot entropy than any museum or art fair could offer. Dystopic visions dominate the show. Lance Weiler’s Pandemic 1.0 and Blast Theory’s A Machine to See With are interactive works that spin their webs from their central location via mobile phones to encompass (theoretically at least) twenty thousand Sundancers. In both pieces, the operations at what could be termed command central are probably more interesting to observe than any interaction one might perform out in the field. I.e., it’s more provocative to contemplate a plague spreading among the hapless festival goers, or to consider that a few dozen people might be receiving instructions to hold up a local bank (the moral decision rests with the individual, one of the Blast Theory artists assured me), than to “perform” in either piece. Like almost all the works in the show, these two have websites that one can get lost in. (For A Machine to See with it’s; for Pandemic 1.0, go to Aaron Koblin & Chris Milk’s The Johnny Cash Project and The Wilderness Downtown involve participants in the creation of music videos that are both collective and highly personal. (See and The Wilderness Downtown, one of my favorites, employs the Arcade Fire song “We Used to Wait” and Google Maps to access your childhood memories.

Jonathan Caouette, All Flowers in Time, 2010, still from a color film, 14 minutes.

A more traditional moving image installation, Mark Boulos’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air places the viewer between two large-screen projections. One depicts Nigerian guerrillas struggling for control of their country’s petroleum; the other shows traders on the floor of Chicago’s futures market. After Ghostcatching, a collaboration between choreographer Bill T. Jones and OpenEnded Group, uses 3-D imaging technology to create not a stronger sense of reality but rather the physical sensation of disembodiment. Daniel Canogar’s Spin and Hippocampus 2 collect the detritus of the digital age to construct visually dazzling, conceptually elegant sculptural pieces. Located in one of the smaller buildings, Lynn Hershman Leeson’s RAW/WAR is an interactive database (you can also find it at of moving picture documents of dance, performance, and political actions, along with interviews, home movies, photographs, and experimental videos and films—a mother lode of spoken words and images that add up to a history of four decades of art by women. Leeson, a performance artist–turned-filmmaker, has also organized these same materials into a lively, useful feature-length documentary titled ! Women Art Revolution, the most straightforward of the five features grouped under the New Frontier rubric.

By far the most beautiful and moving work in New Frontier is also the most direct and simple. Jonathan Caouette’s All Flowers in Time is a fourteen-minute movie that resurrects childhood fears and perhaps lays them to rest. Technically more sophisticated than Caouette’s autobiographical debut feature, Tarnation (2003), All Flowers in Time circulates around a girl’s memory of seeing herself in a photograph with red eyeballs and thinking that she had demons inside her. There is a limpid performance by Chloë Sevigny sitting on a bed talking to a young boy whose name I couldn’t figure out from the credits. There are remarkably lyrical images, many of them digitally constructed, and there is a subtle sound design, filled with small surprises, that takes you deeper inside Caouette’s magical world than any 3-D technology could.

New Frontier continues at the Salt Lake Art Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, through March 25. For more details, click here.