Critics’ Picks

Josephine Meckseper, Pellea[s], 2017–18, HD video, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.

Josephine Meckseper, Pellea[s], 2017–18, HD video, black-and-white, sound, 42 minutes.


Josephine Meckseper

Timothy Taylor | London
15 Carlos Place
Online exhibition

Josephine Meckseper’s film Pellea[s], 2017–18, is a loose adaptation of Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 Symbolist play Pelléas et Mélisande, which features a love triangle that includes the work’s titular characters. Meckseper’s story opens on January 20, 2017, the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. Pelléas here is a soldier, disoriented by having “goose-stepped” all day in the presidential parade, expressing bewilderment throughout the film in a magnetic voice-over combining operatic grandeur and cool detachment: “I’d arrived at this space of mirrored glass and infinite memories as if I were an actor on a stage.” Meckseper’s adroit usage of actual footage from Trump’s presidential parade amplifies the film’s brooding melodrama, as does Arnold Schoenberg’s haunting background music. A tension that positions protest and the avant-garde against a burgeoning authoritarian republic is felt in the three-way tryst, part of which involves an affair between two femme fatales, infusing the atmosphere with hints of neo-noir.

But architecture is the real star in Pellea[s]. The Washington, DC, that provides the backdrop to this forty-two-minute film piece seems to herald from another time altogether. An unidentified military state? An alternative twentieth century in which a Soviet-style regime rules? The chilly facades that gorgeously punctuate the drama deeply resonate with both of these notions. Most often shot from a great distance or in close proximity, they simultaneously call to mind fascist aesthetics and the sci-fi structures of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) or Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire (1973)—other dystopic visions that have the pressing air of what soon will come to pass. Familiar national markers like the Washington Monument and the White House have never looked so distant from the touted ideals of the American dream. Indeed, Meckseper’s prescient work envisions one menacing possibility for our precarious, post-pandemic life.