Critics’ Picks

Omer Fast, 5,000 Feet is the Best, 2011, digital video, color, sound, 30 minutes.

Paris

Omer Fast

Jeu de Paume
1 place de la Concorde
October 20, 2015–January 24, 2016

At the entrance to this exhibition, Omer Fast’s CNN Concatenated, 2002, addresses you with discomfiting intimacy: Familiar faces of American cable-news hector you in a (now ubiquitous) supercut-style montage. Words mined from disparate newscasts are recontextualized in the mouths of a surreal chorus that instigates the viewer’s anxieties, telling us how to feel. Near the bottom of the screen a litany of now historical events footnotes the entire scenario—among them 9/11 and its aftermath. The traumatic and disruptive core of the four video works in this show revolves around war. But the war is always elsewhere, always in the past, and can only be accessed through storytelling, reporting, reenactment—various modes of representation.

In Continuity (Diptych), 2012–15, a German couple brings the horror home by repeatedly hiring male escorts to role-play the return of a killed soldier son, while 5,000 Feet is the Best, 2011, centers on an interview with a former US Army drone pilot. Both works deploy complicated structures that somehow manage to make sense. But as the viewer becomes absorbed, the stories break down, destabilize. Their circular structures, seemingly repetitive at first, are revealed actually to be distinct permutations. Fast anticipates the random entrance of people into the flux of his stories, knowing that viewers will grasp at any narrative guidepost to comprehend the slippery information presented to them.

What cannot be said directly is often most important in these works. The scenarios are familiar and highly stereotyped, and Fast exploits the audience’s default perception of “continuity” in the service of misdirection. Classic TV and cinematic tricks ensnare us, only to corrupt and mutate into something else. Fast’s sleight of hand manages to convey something of the way that representations—documentary and fictional—secure and disrupt our understanding of the world.