PRINT January 2020


Wu Tsang, We hold where study, 2017, two-channel HD video, color, sound, 18 minutes 56 seconds. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2019. Photo: John Wronn.

JUXTAPOSITIONS, groupings, sight lines: Foundational to the curatorial enterprise, these considerations also subtend Wu Tsang’s two-channel video We hold where study, 2017. A honeyed baritone voice-over from poet and theorist Fred Moten introduces scenes of his sons, Julian and Lorenzo, carefree and joyous in a verdant landscape. Thereafter the work unfolds in a series of sensuous duets––between boychild and Josh Johnson, and Ligia Lewis and Jonathan Gonzalez—that speak to and suffuse one another. Projected side by side so that their frames overlap, the videos present choreographed experiments in gravity, weight, and transference, one outside in an abandoned lot, the other inside a dance studio. (The latter draws on footage of rehearsals for Lewis’s 2016 dance minor matter.) If syntax articulates the relationships between things in the world, both Tsang’s work and its title limn a desire for different arrangements, both physical and social, than the ones we have so far known.

The grammar required for revolution may indeed be prefigurative. Yet one encounters We hold where study not in a defiantly irresolute space of futurity, but rather at the putative conclusion of history—by which I glibly mean the end of MoMA's second floor, which traces a narrative arc from the 1970s to the present. Installed in its penultimate gallery, dedicated to the “purposefully open-ended” notion of “Worlds to Come,” Tsang’s video is inevitably in dialogue with all that has preceded it. With its wide aspect ratio, lush colors, and synesthetic promiscuity, it is also conversant in the aesthetic rhetoric of once-dominant forms of visual media—the feature film and the music video—that we receive, increasingly, at the behest of the algorithm, rather than that of the curator. Tsang’s video creates a kind of duet with another work installed on the same floor: Gretchen Bender’s magnificent Dumping Core, 1984, which, with its thirteen-monitor artillery of images and sounds, is a critical mimesis of the corporatized media culture of its day. Taken together, they suggest that questions of visual pleasure, the amalgamation of bodies, and technological circulation—however unfashionably of postmodernist yore they may seem to be—are still with us. 

Catherine Damman is an art historian and critic.