Critics’ Picks

Emmanuel Van der Auwera, “The Sky Is on Fire,” 2019, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes.

Emmanuel Van der Auwera, “The Sky Is on Fire,” 2019, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes.

Brussels

Emmanuel Van der Auwera

Botanique
Rue Royale 236 Saint-Josse-ten-Noode
September 5–November 3, 2019

Harlan Levey Projects
46 Rue Jean d'Ardennestraat
September 5–December 14, 2019

Emmanuel Van der Auwera’s newest video works, all made this year, tenderly suture voices and spaces into a discomfiting portrait of Americans coping with gun violence. “The Death of K9 Cigo” at Harlan Levey Projects, takes its name from a police dog killed in the line of duty. It includes cell-phone footage of the military-style honors conferred on the dog’s funeral, replete with hundreds of mourners. The videos on view were originally created as ephemeral livestreams, which Van der Auwera excavated from the Periscope app, in and around Miami in the wake of last year’s Parkland school shooting. The dignity bestowed upon the canine and the outpouring of sorrow are deftly counterposed with student anti-gun rallies as well as more intimate moments—a young man extols the right to murder under the “stand your ground” law, another is brought to tears by the persistent bloodshed in his neighborhood. Through an assemblage of contrasting self-presentations, Van der Auwera reveals mechanisms by which social media transforms how we apprehend and grieve, or don’t, a sort of violence that is nearing ubiquity.

How digital recordings render topical scars of still-festering wounds is central to Van der Auwera’s second video work. “The Sky Is on Fire,” at Botanique, is also centered in Miami, where Van der Auwera scanned streets and alleyways using the same 3-D technology as Google Earth. Looping across three expansive screens, these disparate topographies have been digitally stitched together and enlarged. Fissures take root. Gaping negative spaces and visual glitches create a bizarrely stagnant landscape populated by 7-Elevens, static cars, and languishing consumer appliances. Chaz, a serial livestreamer who first appears in “K9,” returns as narrator; his prolonged monologue frames the work’s scenes. Chaz’s digressions, repetitions, and contradictions designate him an imperfect but prescient prophet. “We are temporary,” he booms, “but what we do is permanent.”