Critics’ Picks

View of “Zoe Beloff,” 2016.

New York

Zoe Beloff

Momenta Art
56 Bogart Street
January 24–March 20

“I want to feel free and do things as I please . . . normal human things . . . as normal human beings want to,” says a paranoid young woman in Zoe Beloff’s film The Infernal Dream of Mutt and Jeff, 2011. Fulfilling this desire is a part of the utopian ideal, and the efficient use of time and technology can be a means to that end. Beloff presents this argument as an archaeological display of workaday paraphernalia staged on an industrial movie set. Her film, however, is the exhibit’s centerpiece, a study of solutions broken up over three channels (the other two show archival industrial films) that present a well-intentioned system of problem-solving.

The problem, of course, is labor, and the means necessary to work effectively for the benefit of humankind. In the industrial films, we are shown faster, more comfortable ways of filling a container and shuffling papers, with an actress performing each movement. This is supposed to help name the issues that need to be “fixed,” and every motion made is synchronized with the advancing seconds of a stopwatch.

Film is an apt medium to teach efficiency through mimicry and repetition. A properly “mechanized” body can produce more in less time and can live happily with whatever hours remain. Mutt and Jeff on Strike, an animated short from 1920 shown separately, tells us how the two famous comic-strip characters quit their jobs, work on their own animated film that flops, then beg to return to their jobs without pay. Beloff confirms that the problem of labor can’t be solved by focusing on how to improve or expedite procedural steps—that existential struggle, woefully, cannot be ironed out with an “automatized” formula. Scrutinizing the production time of a cog is worthless: Just get off the wheel.