TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT October 2007

TOP TEN

Rosalind Nashashibi

Rosalind Nashashibi represents Scotland in the Fifty-second Venice Biennale. She is currently participating in the third installment of the Contour Biennial for Video Art in Mechelen, Belgium; has a solo exhibition at Berkeley Art Museum in California; and is artist in residence at the International Artists Studio Program in Sweden (Stockholm). She and Lucy Skaer work collaboratively under the name Nashashibi/Skaer.

  1. DIE ARTISTEN IN DER ZIRKUSKUPPEL: RATLOS (ARTISTS UNDER THE BIG TOP: PERPLEXED) (1968)

    In this film by Alexander Kluge, protagonist Leni Peickert plans to build a new type of circus that will flout convention by presenting beasts in their authentic states. The narrator claims, “Faced with the inhuman situation, the [circus] artists can only increase the degree of difficulty in their work.” Leni is as eccentric as her father, a trapeze artist killed in the ring who longed for the impossible—to see elephants float in the air under the big top, for example. Having secured funding, she goes so far as to buy an elephant, but despite this bold step her plans go awry. The audience is not yet ready for change. Leni is a fierce character who tirelessly attempts to tackle problems that are likely insurmountable. I’d like to see her appear in future films—she still has a job to do.

    Alexander Kluge, Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos (Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed), 1968, still from a color and black-and-white film in 35 mm, 104 minutes. Alexander Kluge, Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos (Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed), 1968, still from a color and black-and-white film in 35 mm, 104 minutes.
  2. FINAL SCENES OF TOUTE UNE NUIT (ALL NIGHT LONG) (1982) AND BEAU TRAVAIL (GOOD WORK) (1999)

    The last scene of Chantal Akerman’s Toute une nuit shows a doomed couple dancing together, awkwardly, in an apartment in the early morning as the sound of car horns outside blends with music from the radio. During the end credits of Claire Denis’s Beau travail, the main character dances wildly in an empty nightclub. Both films communicate predominantly through gestures and looks rather than through dialogue or plot. And, like plays within plays, their final scenes encapsulate the whole work in a single physical activity so satisfying and complete, it’s stunning.

  3. MATISSE’S CHASUBLES

    The last room of the 2005 exhibition “Matisse: The Fabric of Dreams—His Art and His Textiles,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, housed two chasuble maquettes made by Matisse for his total work of art, the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France. They look almost like magicians’ cloaks or large paper butterflies with fantastic patterns and shapes. I loved them as charged objects and as costume.

    Henri Matisse, maquette for red chasuble (front) designed for the Chapel of the Rosary, 1950–52, gouache on paper cutout, 52 1⁄2 x 78 1⁄8". © Succession Henri Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Henri Matisse, maquette for red chasuble (front) designed for the Chapel of the Rosary, 1950–52, gouache on paper cutout, 52 1⁄2 x 78 1⁄8". © Succession Henri Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
  4. MARCEL BROODTHAERS, A VOYAGE ON THE NORTH SEA (1973–74)

    This silent four-minute 16-mm film is structured like a book featuring an amateur painting of a ship and photographs of sailing boats. Some of the “pages” of the film are identical to one another, and some are superclose shots of brushstrokes. But to describe the work as being about the picture plane is to ignore the facts, the ships, the pages, the way the work insists that you look repeatedly at the same clichéd images until they lose their ordinariness. The brilliant thing is that the film is so simple, and yet it holds on to its mystery.

  5. TROPICAL MALADY (2004)

    I first saw Tropical Malady in an ordinary cinema that did not bill it as an art film, so I wasn’t expecting to be particularly challenged. Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul addresses unanswerable questions—about spirituality, lust, and fear—and splits the film into two halves (one realistic, the other mythical and fantastical), a move that opens up the film to failure, though you find yourself staying with it the whole way through. Like A Voyage on the North Sea, Tropical Malady taps into things we recognize and respond to without understanding rationally. It made me think it was possible for filmmakers to do exactly what they want, even outside the safely permissive zone of the art gallery.

  6. CASA LUIS BARRAGÁN, TACUBAYA, MEXICO, 1948

    Every element of this house is elegant and beautiful, but I especially like the enormous lectern in Barragán’s living room, which displays the architect’s favorite books, left open at significant pages, and his own magazine collages, one of which is, fascinatingly, an homage to Iman, former supermodel and current wife of David Bowie. It seems to me that amid all the aesthetic perfection Barragán also thought about his own pleasure. Some bedrooms look like little more than monastic cells, perfect for playing out sadomasochistic fantasies. I love the house because it’s a bit too personal for such rigorous architecture.

  7. FORD TRANSIT (2002)

    This film by Hany Abu-Assad was shot in one of the thousands of former Israeli military vans now used by Palestinians as collective taxis between checkpoints in the occupied territories. The vehicles are crucial for everyday movement and, ironically, for dodging the military controls. By staging his film inside one of these white vans, Abu-Assad creates a theater in which Palestinian society, occupation, and daily life are played out in miniature. Scenes that seem real are actually scripted, which apparently annoyed some audiences, but to me that is what is great about the film—it shows things more succinctly and truthfully than a fly-on-the-wall or vérité approach could do. And it’s funny. Abu-Assad is extremely sharp and shows the absurdity inherent in very serious situations.

    Hany Abu-Assad, Ford Transit, 2002, still from a color film in 16 mm, 80 minutes. Hany Abu-Assad, Ford Transit, 2002, still from a color film in 16 mm, 80 minutes.
  8. CLEMENS VON WEDEMEYER, VON GEGENÜBER (FROM THE OPPOSITE SIDE) (2007)

    I just saw this film at Skulptur Projekte Münster. It’s shot entirely with a camera strapped to the artist, so the viewer is sandwiched between what Wedemeyer confronts and his consciousness of it, as if we get to see his surroundings before he has had the chance to process them. And it’s film, not video, so you don’t get bogged down in surveillance or documentary issues. As in Ford Transit, the action is both scripted and candid, but in Wedemeyer’s film the viewer is denied safe distance. You feel the artist’s mental state, as if you are right there with him.

  9. EGYPTIAN POP: ANGHAM, “SEDI WE SALAK” (I WANT TO CONNECT WITH YOU), AND AMR DIAB, “WALA ALA BALOH” (SHE HAS NO CLUE)

    Angham’s voice is beautiful and clear. My friend Hassan Khan told me Amr Diab is the Ricky Martin of Egypt—so basically my taste is that of an Egyptian eight-year-old. He does make me wince at times, particularly during his embarrassing rap sequences. In any case, I love these songs. The music is an intoxicating, over-the-top sugar rush of traditional Arabic sound and Eurotrash.

    Amr Diab performing during the World Music Awards, Monaco, 2002. Photo: Reuters/Eric Gaillard. Amr Diab performing during the World Music Awards, Monaco, 2002. Photo: Reuters/Eric Gaillard.
  10. KATE DAVIS

    I like Kate Davis’s work partly because it leaves space for me to project my thoughts onto it. The Participator, 2004, is my favorite, a beautiful surrealist sculpture representing a woman. The work is strange and tough, but also sexy and playful. Her approach is uncompromising and undidactic—in sum, feminine. In her installation Waiting in 1972; What About 2007? (1a-d), 2007, glazed ceramic batons stick out of hollowed-out television sets, perhaps serving as a call to reverse the hypnotic effects of TV. I like the intervention of her unique handmade objects, which supplant the bland and dumbing messages of television, bursting out of the sets like parasites.

    Kate Davis, Waiting in 1972; What About 2007? (1a-d) (detail), 2007, pencil on paper, ceramic batons, and televisions, dimensions variable. Kate Davis, Waiting in 1972; What About 2007? (1a-d) (detail), 2007, pencil on paper, ceramic batons, and televisions, dimensions variable.