New York

Leandro Katz

John Gibson Gallery

The preexisting texts Leandro Katz invokes read like a graduate reading list. His artifacts appeal to a sensibility stirred by the universally recognizable: a teepee, a film of the full moon in every appearance from 1974 to the present, photographs of interiors from many lands. But the texts to which he refers, with which he annotates! Hegel! Habermas! Levi-Strauss! Lacan! Chomsky! Derrida! Drop that name! Name that hypothesis! These appeal to a sensibility stirred by theory. There is an ambivalence here, unless you choose to read it as bivalence: he equates preliterate semiology with intellectual semiology—a full moon vis-a-vis Levi-Strauss’ commentary—and his meaning is unclear. Is one fresher than the other? More accessible? Epistemology for Katz is like ornithology is for the . . . Birdman of Alcatraz. He’s obsessed with and imprisoned by knowledge, and understands it connects him with the outside world.

Regrettably, all the multimedia presentations Katz makes suffer from inflammation of the footnote. He doesn’t, with all his begged, borrowed and swollen words, achieve the delicious contradiction to which he evidently aspires. The hebephrenic quality to his language suggests he’s embarked on the search for the words, the phrase, that will be the Rosetta stone for decoding contemporary culture. (Give a monkey a typewriter and he’ll. . . .) There’s a portentousness to his audiotapes, an ominousness to his images—all of which can be written off to the fact that the gallery is dramatically unlit.

The exception that proves the rule: a too-long short movie called Splits, based on Borges’ Emma Zunz. Splits is an appropriate title, for the movie employs split-screen and details the split loyalties of a woman who commits homicide. Katz, for all the apparent denial in his overreliance on words, has a terrific eye: titled camera shots of Emma walking up several flights of stairs are like the Clothed Ascending the Staircase—with this offbeat angle he gives us a staircase that neither ascends nor descends, but like a treadmill remains on the same level. His tendency to overembellish the frame with split-screen effects is a vanity. It really doesn’t enhance our sense of Emma’s divided self, because the clichéd Rorschach faces of Emma staring down at the action of the movie doesn’t have any apparent punch. Where Katz is good is visually telling a story. Girl gets letter. Girl stalks enemy. Girl gets enemy.

Katz is totally equipped, as he proves in Splits, to deal with narrative and visual in an original way. But his courtship of epistemology in the academic sense would be better conducted in the graduate school of his choice.

Carrie Rickey