Rénee Green

Renée Green’s exhibition “Between and Including” was a convincing model of a retrospective, even though in some ways it was fragmentary and included only work from the past four years. What made this version of a “retrospective” so compelling was its overlapping of a whole series of backward glances. To begin with there were the works, a selection of videos and installations placed in one large room that the artist had reconfigured as a labyrinth. Then there was an examination of Green’s personal history, the question of her origin and formation as subject and artist. On top of all this was a referencing of the ’70s, the decade’s art, pop culture, and lifestyle. The latter elements were, above all, what opened up the possibility of a personal retrospective for each visitor, particularly if he or she belonged to the same generation as the artist.

One gained access to one’s own history through specific objects, even before one traced the connections provided by Green. In the installation Sublimity Links, 1999, one was invited to listen to Jimi Hendrix on headphones while sitting on soft cushions. The experience called up a number of questions: What did Hendrix mean to me as a teenager—music that even then I was hearing ten years “too late”? How do I understand it today, now that I have a critical relationship to texts? What differentiates “my” Hendrix from Green’s—or, for that matter, the Hendrix of a male teenager in the Austrian provinces from that of a black woman in America? And what ties “my” Hendrix to that of my fourteen-year-old son? Reflections like these were diverted through other trails of thought by a wall on which one read the names of Romantic authors who have written about their travels next to the names of rock bands, along with a photograph of a “sublime” landscape. These in turn raised other questions, such as to what extent specific yearnings—for mobility, for an overstepping of boundaries—are tied to a time, and to what extent they are timeless.

In the form of an “idiosyncratic cross-referencing system,” which was reinforced by the maze like architecture of the space, the themes of travel and the notion of self as a transitory being were explored further in other “chapters” of the exhibition. For example, in Green’s video Some Chance Operations, 1998, people of different origins speak about their conceptions of or experiences in Nepal, while in Archaic Nostalgia, 1996, the On the Road mythology of the Beat generation (represented here by books) is confronted with Robert Frank’s The Americans. And in the video that is part of the installation Partially Buried, 1997, Green follows the traces of political, artistic, and personal history at Kent State University, showing the site where Smithson executed his Partially Buried Woodshed in 1970, the commons where four students were shot and killed during a demonstration against the invasion of Cambodia, and the places where Green’s mother studied. With this work the concentration shifted to reflections about home and how such a place—in this era of virtual mobility—can be understood, whether as a locality or an emotional state. At stake was the nature of memory. This was reflected on other levels in Some Chance Operations as well, in which Green set out on the traces of the Neapolitan silent film director Elvira Notart, whose once popular work has largely fallen into oblivion.

The question of what remains and who remembers is also interesting in relation to Smithson, whose work—as an antimonument to transitoriness—remains a key chapter in recent art history. From there, Green turns to the question of historiography, to the archiving and ordering system, as in the film stills she arranges on the wall according to her own invented categories, thereby alluding to Conceptual art practices. From this (and much more) Green creates a superabundance of interconnected paths of thought that the viewer no sooner enters than he pleasurably loses his way on the byways and detours of this hyperspace.

Christian Kravagna

Translated from German by Elizabeth Felicella.