Critics’ Picks

View of “Katherine Bauer: Cinematic Death Moon Return: Impact Phase,” 2018.

New York

Katherine Bauer

Microscope Gallery
1329 Willoughby Avenue 2B
July 20 - August 26

The gallery visitor enters an enchanted forest of daturas (aka devil’s trumpets) and moonflower vines, which magically bloom in the night hours. Artist Katherine Bauer grew them in an upstate greenhouse this year. These plant species are often associated with shamans, witches, and lunar rituals. In alchemical literature, plants grown in moonlight are said to have transformational powers. Here, they intertwine—poetically, physically—with the history of cinema. Vine tendrils have laced themselves into the sprocket holes of 35-mm filmstrips suspended from the ceiling. They fall like astral rays from a giant film platter that evokes a lunar disc.

The platter and bits and pieces from a large movie-house projector litter the floor. The artist rescued these mechanical parts from an abandoned upstate theater that refused to convert to digital. A silver projection screen taken from the theater is the backdrop for this living forest of celluloid strips, obsolete equipment, and assorted flora. Bauer made her rescue operation into a 16-mm short, The Vanishing Lady, 2018, a nod to the French filmmaker Georges Méliès, here projected onto a rear wall. The work shows actors playing Hollywood starlets and robed priestesses who float through the disassembled theater and over a nearby stream to perform mysterious rites. Bauer will enact similar rituals during the exhibition.

This environment addresses the dissolution of film. Bauer makes us think of Méliès once more, whose works were destroyed to reclaim their silver nitrate. Silver is a metal connected to Artemis, the Greek goddess of wilderness—a nature spirit not too unlike the artist. Her exhibition is a commentary on the depletion of the earth’s chemicals since the Industrial Revolution and the inception of cinema. The artist enters the territory of Goethe’s naturalism and the philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s writing on plant energetics. Bauer’s installation is an enchanting meditation on death and resurrection.