Critics’ Picks

James N. Kienitz Wilkins, The Dynamic Range, 2018, VR, 18 minutes.

James N. Kienitz Wilkins, The Dynamic Range, 2018, VR, 18 minutes.


James N. Kienitz Wilkins

155 Vauxhall Street
September 20–December 16, 2018

Brooklyn-based artist James N. Kienitz Wilkins’s first exhibition in a gallery context considers truth through the medium of film. Take The Dynamic Range, 2018, a video shot with the lens cap on, which was originally commissioned for planetarium format and is here presented through a virtual-reality headset. At the beginning of the video, darkness. But then particles of light become visible through colored pixels, which swirl into an upward tunnel as a Morgan Freeman impersonator narrates the digital advances of camera technology. Wilkins prompts us to think about what we see when we see nothing, how blindness forces a kind of trust in what we’re told. Hanging nearby, The Second Person, 2018, an archival analog photograph from the Apollo II mission that the press release describes as “manipulated,” cunningly builds on this anxiety; aside from being cropped, the work completely resembles the original. Though nothing seems contrived, seeing is not quite believing in Wilkins’s work.

Projected onto the wall in a separate room is Indefinite Pitch, 2016. In this slideshow, Wilkins narrates a story that begins with a movie pitch. The plot is stolen from Arch Heath’s silent (and lost) serial film The Masked Menace (1927), whose main character terrorizes citizens with his living-flesh countenance exposed, diurnally covered by a mask. High-quality black-and-white images of the Androscoggin River, which runs through Maine and New Hampshire, accompany the voiceover. Heath’s film was shot in Berlin, NH, and so we might assume Wilkins’s images were too, but they turn out to be from his hometown, which he describes as being “close enough.” By this point, a police siren has broken up Wilkins’s monologue, which fluctuates in pitch throughout, and the fictional tale turns into a picture of local politics ravaged by arson, heroin use, and white-supremacist organizations. In the end, real life turns out to be the true horror.