New York

Saul Ostrow

Bykert Gallery, Downtown

Saul Ostrow’s An Introduction to an Indoctrination (For B. Brecht) is a spare didactic installation with audio tapes, an attempt to embody a moment of political consciousness through a simple series of choices you make about how to approach the work. Coming into the gallery, you get a choice of two doors facing each other across an alcove inset into a temporary wall. There’s a tape playing here too: “You are free. You are free to choose from what is offered.” Ostrow calls it “a cluing device, a comparison between an absolute and a conditional.” I thought it was vestigial since I don’t need to be clued to go into an exhibition. Anyhow, your choice of a door to go through is revealed when you’re inside as a kind of first stage political decision. If you go through the right door, you find yourself closer to the tape which advises resignation, accommodation to what you can’t change, and self-improvement. If you go through the left door, you’re closer to a tape urging you to action and sacrifice on behalf of the collective whole.

Once inside Ostrow’s room, you may choose again whether to sit in a chair, which can accommodate only one person at a time, or on a bench, which seats several. When you’re seated and centered, you find that the tapes are each playing loud enough so that you can really only listen to one at a time and get the argument. This is weighted from the start. The opening sentence on the left is, “You are an individual part of the whole.” The one on the right is, “Make believe you are an individual.” The two tapes are very similar, both spoken by the same voice, both using nearly the same words and sentences. I’m reminded here of the curious cacophony in one of Lawrence Weiner’s installations that arises out of reading something that’s being read to you at the same time. But here that’s turned to effect. To become aware of the points of difference in Ostrow’s two tapes is to rediscover that particular point in your thinking where you constructed the operational difference between yourself and everybody else. To find that point is to examine it, and perhaps to reconstitute your politics. Roland Barthes writes that the central effort of Brecht’s theater is to construct a dynamic that reinvents Marxism through an interrogatory, not a catechistic, morality. Ostrow’s Indoctrination is a fair stab at that.

Alan Moore