Critics’ Picks

Bessma Khalaf, The Long Goodbye, 2012, still from an HD video, 12 hours.

Bessma Khalaf, The Long Goodbye, 2012, still from an HD video, 12 hours.

San Francisco

Bessma Khalaf

Steven Wolf Fine Arts
2747 19th Street, Suite A
April 20–May 19, 2012

Those who give credence to the Mayan eschatological prophecy that the world will end this year can shop nearly until Christmas to prepare for the apocalypse. This sort of humorous and mundane magick is the sly subject of Bessma Khalaf’s mostly monochromatic photographs, videos, and sculptures in her latest exhibition, “Re-Enchanter.” The show reveals an intoxicating mix of tonal ingredients, not the least of which is a base of witty theatricality. Take the self-descriptive, elegantly composed black-and-white photograph Still Life with Le Creuset (all works 2012), which repurposes a pricey Dutch oven as bubbling cauldron (with a web of unruly hair seeping out the side). It’s anyone’s guess what this dish will invoke. Iraq-born Khalaf is inspired by ancient Chaldean traditions of witchcraft, but she adds pinches of postmodern thought (à la Suzi Gablik) throughout, along with pop-cultural nods to mainstream cinema, fiction, and heavy metal.

As with her previous video work and photography, Khalaf merges sight gags with durational performance. In the twelve-hour video The Long Goodbye (titled after the Raymond Chandler novel), a hand tips a lit candle that drips wax into the bottom of the frame, slowly accruing into a crinkly, painterly surface that eventually fills the entire frame, as if the artist is ritualistically interning herself. Khalaf, wearing a hoodie, performs the grim reaper in several works, most humorously in the projected video Plein Air Drifter, in which a theatrically ominous figure silently glides through verdant forests on a Segway scooter, a tongue-in-cheek gesture with an artistic sleight of hand that infuses dark arts, and dour times, with a little light.