Critics’ Picks

Lenore Malen, The Reason of the Strongest Is Always the Best, 2016, video, color, sound, 4 minutes 30 seconds.

New York

Lenore Malen

56 Bogart Street 1st Floor
January 6–February 5, 2017

Lenore Malen’s current exhibition, “Scenes from Paradise,” is an eco-Gesamtkunstwerk, connecting our environmental crisis with the Bible’s declaration that man should have dominion over all nature. Countering this destructive injunction, the artist creates videos, photographs, and objects to present a vision of interspecies communion. In one video, Reversal (all works 2016), a woman with rein-like ropes dangling over her face addresses the camera with utter conviction. She speaks of humanity’s rule over the earth as barbaric: “It is a challenge using your language, but the real challenge for me and my kingdom is to distill the sublime nature of our existence into clumsy morsels digestible only to you,” she declaims. The video is played backwards, but subtitles decode her message. By the end, it becomes clear—partly through projections that flank her speech, where footage of horse races and county-fair rides flicker in and out of view—that the speaker is actually a horse, representing her species. (She isn’t wearing a horse costume, however, and she’s a far cry from any Disneyfied cartoon beast.) It seems that the audience’s task is to imagine another, more animal mode of being, to try to overcome human/animal difference.

Another video, The Reason of the Strongest Is Always the Best, offers up more scrambled anthropomorphism: Here, people clad in fluorescent snowsuits and animal masks run up a glacial rock in Central Park. At the end, the camera slowly zooms in on the ugly and omnipresent residential skyscraper on 432 Park Avenue, suggesting a disharmony between nature and culture.

Understanding language as political, Malen presents interspecies relationships without sentimentality. Her affective tools—satire, Biblical absurdism, and the compassion it took to found the New Society for Universal Harmony (which Malen did in 1999)—are worth holding onto in a moment when one stupid tweet could begin nuclear annihilation.