Critics’ Picks

Jenny Perlin, Sight Reading, 2004, three-channel DVD projection, 7 minutes.


“Kool-Aid Wino”

Franklin Street Works
41 Franklin Street
July 20–September 22

This exhibition brings together six artists, two poets, and one anonymous weaver to rethink “errors” as opportunities for discoveries. Curator Claire Barliant introduces this concept in her accompanying exhibition text, “The Corrections: Nine Things Not to Do When Writing a Catalogue Essay,” which cunningly names and violates rules in the same breath. She begins: “Don’t start with the etymology of a word, which in this case is ‘error,’ and comes from the Latin word errare meaning to deviate, or to stray.” By blatantly contradicting herself, Barliant recasts linguistic “errors” as strategies for changing directions or denying responsibility for an earlier claim.

The works in this show similarly feature “errors” as frontiers for interpretation. An Uzbek textile from the 1920s highlights how a stitch that appears to be a “deliberate mistake” may actually be a strategy for demonstrating piety to God, material ownership, or something else completely. Meanwhile, Jenny Perlin’s three-channel projection Sight Reading, 2004, amplifies “error” to observe piano playing and filmmaking as laborious exercises, rather than seamless virtuosic endeavors. Showing three classically trained pianists who simultaneously play Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor for the first time, the work begins harmoniously but dissolves into dissonance. Each time a player hits a wrong key, Perlin exaggerates the “error” by pausing the recording for five seconds, allowing the sound to stop and the screen to go black. As more “errors” occur, Perlin’s editorial intervention increases, illuminating how filmmakers shape “real time” in post-production, just as pianists shape the “real score” of sheet music through artistic interpretation.

Writing in the exhibition text about the show’s title, which references Richard Brautigan’s irreverent 1967 vignette “Kool-Aid Wino,” Barliant concludes her text with a reminder to the viewer. Rather than dwell on “error” as a tidy curatorial premise, we should celebrate the broader view of artists who have the gall to break the rules and risk inventiveness. We may learn more from a wino than we’d expect.