New York

Dennis Adams

Kent Gallery

Over the past two decades, Dennis Adams has produced site-specific work, often in highly visible locations such as bus stops, that focuses on the phenomenon of collective amnesia in the late twentieth century. From the “transformations” of Patricia Hearst to the trial of Klaus Barbie, from the demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Adams has singled out controversial figures and events from our not-too-distant past that, if buried underneath layers of silence, still carry an explosive charge.

For his 1998 video installation, Outtake (first shown in Bremen, Germany, and later in Berlin), Adams presented a I7.33-second “take” of selected fragments of a 1969 television movie about the lives of delinquent girls in state orphanages. In a manner that evokes the image of the running woman at the beginning of Chris Marker’s landmark film La Jetée, 1963 (a film that is, save for one momentary exception, made entirely of photo stills), the appropriated sequence shows an adolescent girl, loose hair streaming, running toward the camera as she attempts to evade two nuns who want to cut off her long hair as a punishment for vanity. From the short film, Adams also made photo stills of the 416 individual frames, which he later handed out to passersby on a busy street (the action was captured on a video camera attached to Adams’s arm as the “bills” passed from hand to hand). While the original film clip was only 17.33 seconds long, the videotape lasts 136 minutes—the time it took Adams to distribute the handbills.

The work takes on additional significance when one discovers in a short text handed out by the gallery that the film from which the stills are taken is a 1970 made-for-television drama, Bambule, written by journalist-turned-political-activist Ulrike Meinhof, and the setting for Adams’s action is none other than Berlin’s Kurfiirstendamm, where members of the Red Army Faction (RAF) first disseminated their fliers and pamphlets in the late ’60s. Bambule was Meinhof’s final attempt to address social injustice through a legitimate organ. Shelved a few days before its debut when Meinhof became a suspect in the 1970 prison escape of fellow RAF member Andreas Baader, the film never aired in her lifetime. Her death in a maximum-security cell in May 1976, preceding that of three other RAF members in October of the following year, stunned Germany and set off a period of national soul-searching, especially by those skeptical of government claims that the inmates had all committed suicide.

In a recent interview, Adams argues that his method of working is more akin to that of a gravedigger than an archeologist. Certainly Outtake revisits incidents entombed twenty years ago that many Germans would prefer not to remember. But in the end this exhumation of a distinctly German past is the work’s shortcoming in the present context. The site specificity and public nature of Adams’s project—his videotaping the distribution of a fragmented clip of Meinhof’s Bambule on the Kurfürstendamrn in Berlin—loses much of its resonance when the videotape is projected anywhere outside Germany.

Alexander Alberro