“Five Acts: Chronicles of Dissent”

Marginal Utility
319 North 11th Street, Second Floor
January 6, 2012–March 18, 2012

Yael Bartana, Wild Seeds, 2005, still from a color two-channel video, 6 minutes 39 seconds.

“Five Acts: Chronicles of Dissent” brings together five artists who shrewdly deconstruct the language of revolt. In a baroque scene that animates aspects of Jacques-Louis David’s Intervention of the Sabine Women, 1799, Yael Bartana’s two-channel video and sound installation Wild Seeds, 2005, crafts a fable of displacement in modern-day Israel. Shot in slow motion with rich colors and suspenseful music, the work features pacifist teenagers enacting a game of evacuator and evacuee. The action is alternately ludic and demonic, with picaresque elements that are continually destabilized by captions like I CAN’T BREATHE and VERY LOUD SCREAMING.

Andrea Bowers’s video Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Training—Tree Sitting Forest Defense, 2009, entrenches itself in the practicalities of environmental protest. Focusing on the sheer amount of gear, skill, and stamina required of would-be tree sitters, Bowers produces a technical manual laced with the anxiety of operating alone. As her documentary lens zooms in on specialty knots, she nervously rehearses the crucial procedures that will enable her to subsist by herself—perhaps for weeks—in the tree worth saving.

Sharon Hayes’s audio and text piece I March in the Parade of Liberty but as Long as I Love You I’m Not Free, 2007–2008, intones a similar commitment to preservation. In a love letter addressed to viewers, Hayes recites slogans salvaged from iconic LGBTQ rights protests, repurposed here to form a ballad of the lone dissenter. She laments our fleeting interest in protests abroad (“The moment that you’ve long ago forgotten is happening to me right now”) and asks us to consider why we get involved or why we don’t (“What do we want? When do we want it?”). Drawing on Oscar Wilde’s love letters written from jail, Hayes reminds us that “there is no prison in any world into which love cannot force an entrance.” Keeping the faith with Wilde, Hayes promises to find us and love us—forcefully articulating the possibility for intimacy nestled at the heart of public complaint.

— Katherine Rochester