Critics’ Picks

Barbara Hammer, Sanctus, 1990, 16mm film transferred to video, color and black-and-white, sound (by Neil B. Rolnick), 18 minutes 16 seconds.

Barbara Hammer, Sanctus, 1990, 16mm film transferred to video, color and black-and-white, sound (by Neil B. Rolnick), 18 minutes 16 seconds.

New York

Barbara Hammer

COMPANY
88 Eldridge Street 5th Floor
Online exhibition

Celluloid decays, as do we. Nowhere is this more perceptible than in Barbara Hammer’s film Sanctus, 1990, a symphonic arrangement of rephotographed, moving X-rays stitched together. Part of the ongoing online series “In Company With,” this work was screened during the ’90s installment of a program dedicated to Hammer’s filmography. In it, liquids pass through organs; muscles flex around bones; skeletons shave faces and touch surfaces barely visible. Sanctus puts its viewers deep inside the human corpus; everything appears as though it were a delicate membrane—be it a bladder, tissue, or the colorfully tinted radiographic images.

A Horse Is Not A Metaphor, 2008, included in the suite of films currently on view, fuses autobiographical camcorder documentation of the artist’s hospital chemo treatments with found rodeo footage, anatomical scans, scenes of horseback riding in the Wyoming foothills, and postproduction effects. From this amalgam, a luminescent, multidimensional body emerges, infused with different terrains and topographies. Throughout this piece, Hammer describes herself as a cancer “thriver.” Meredith Monk’s guttural soundtrack helps shape the film’s palpable physiology.

Queer, communal, historical, political, sick: Hammer variously examined and exalted these aspects of the human body by using her own until March 16, 2019, the day she died. And during the week of March 16, 2020, Americans streamed a staggering 156 billion minutes of material—roughly equivalent to 3,710 long human lives. If most commercialized quarantine content being produced right now is meant to keep us blind to our own mortality, then Hammer’s life in art is a compassionate reminder that we will all pass, perhaps sooner than we think, and that we might as well live with as much edge, grace, energy, and idealism as possible.