Critics’ Picks

Bessma Khalaf, Monument, 2009, still from a color video, 3 hours 56 minutes.

Bessma Khalaf, Monument, 2009, still from a color video, 3 hours 56 minutes.

San Francisco

Bessma Khalaf

Steven Wolf Fine Arts
2747 19th Street, Suite A
October 9–November 14, 2009

In two of the three videos that compose “You’re Not There,” Bessma Khalaf’s first solo exhibition at this gallery, the artist shares—through precise actions—an extremely ambivalent relationship with the American landscape and much of what it signifies. In Projection (all works 2009), a sequence of Sierra Club–style photographs of golden plains, majestic mountains, and rolling rivers is revealed as fictional when a fist punches through the sheets of paper the images are screened on one by one. These efficient blows to the land form a rhythmic slide show of constant insertion and, perhaps, rejection. On the opposite wall, in Landscape, the paper itself forms a relief that seems just as volcanically violent.

An abrupt moment is temporally distorted in the show’s epic centerpiece, Monument, a video documenting the Iraqi-American artist straddling a life-size ice sculpture of a horse for the nearly four hours it takes to melt in the hot California sun. Her pratfall is defused by the viewer’s prolonged anticipation and becomes a memorial to inevitable defeat––not to mention frozen inner thighs. The artist’s body is also something of a conduit in Ectoplasm, a creepy Victorian-inspired work that involves Khalaf knitting a scarf with nubby white yarn pulled from her mouth. The dark mirror used in the video is mounted nearby, and though Khalaf’s sculptural gesture is not quite there, her videos make the discomfiture of the show vividly present.