Critics’ Picks

Olivier Pietsch, The Shape of Things, 2008, still from a color video, 17 minutes 30 seconds.


Olivier Pietsch

Goff + Rosenthal
Brunnenstrasse 3
September 6–October 18

Olivier Pietsch pushes Alfred Hitchcock’s dictum that “drama is life with the dull bits cut out” to ecstatic extremes. The Berlin-based German artist plucks out the Barthesian punctum from scenes in classic, mainstream, independent, and art films to construct cinematic collages. In the past, Pietsch elegantly wove together a potent portrait of pop culture’s romance with intoxicants by cherry-picking scenes of drug ingestion for his forty-five-minute film The Conquest of Happiness, 2005, and then created a brief ode to suicides as shown on the big screen with Domin, Libra Nos, 2006–2007. Now, alongside these earlier works, Pietsch presents two new videos that drill even closer to cinema’s core, because dreaming is their shared subject. In Because, 2008, Pietsch offers a soothing, over-three-minute succession of sunsets and aerial cloud views set to the Beatles song of the same name. But while this piece is gentle, The Shape of Things, 2008, is arresting. A pastiche of oneiric scenes and nightmarish assaults from recognizable and obscure films, the work comprises seconds’ worth of imagery from sources including Teen Wolf (1985), Repulsion (1965), and Belle de Jour (1967). Set to a melodic sound track, Pietsch’s video puts forth a seamless show of succubae, erotic reveries, and horrors, beginning with a sequence of slumberers and ending with a couple cajoling each other back to sleep. The Shape of Things offers a haunting portrait of cinema’s role as a communal dream holding passive audiences, enveloped by movie-theater darkness, in thrall.