Critics’ Picks

Empire, 2002.

Empire, 2002.

Los Angeles

Paul Sietsema

Regen Projects
6750 Santa Monica Blvd
September 7–October 12, 2002

Paul Sietsema’s new 16 mm film project employs the kind of entrancing didactics wistfully associated with classrooms of the not-so-distant past. Clocking in at twenty-four minutes, Empire is an opaque, teacherly meditation on the construction of a sensibility. In a series of near-static silent sequences, Sietsema sets his sights on an elusive sourcebook of objects and interiors: a barely perceptible grasshopper, a biomorphic sculpture referencing Jackson Pollock’s rare work in that medium, a splendidly ornate room, and, most notably, the glamorous, modern interior of Clement Greenberg’s New York apartment as seen in a 1964 issue of Vogue. What we see projected is actually negative film stock, which is how the artist achieves that burnished, otherworldly gray or orange glow. As in an earlier work, untitled (Beautiful Place), 1998, all sets and subjects in Empire have been constructed by hand. On film, they appear as strangely mediated trompe l’oeil, low-tech yet with a cinematic “credibility,” like analog versions of navigable virtual-reality interiors. The end result, ripe with references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the films of Warhol, and the history of decorative arts, is a curiously engaging lesson in the mercurial nature of aesthetics and their representation.