New York

Jonah Freeman

Andrew Kreps Gallery

Jonah Freeman examines American living spaces as though he were an anthropologist noting surprising details of an alien tribe’s dwellings. For his recent exhibition, Freeman created works inspired by the fact and idea of gated communities, those dreary locations pervaded by class-conscious hermeticism and the ecology of fear. In video, installation, and photographs, he explored issues surroundmg the poetics of place—the kind of dystopic place where comfort is infused with a sense of isolation.

Bring the Outside In (all works 2000) consisted of two looped videos projected onto the walls in a comer of the gallery. Alternating between panoramic tracking shots of a groomed outdoor space, a house, and a room and stationary close-ups of architectural or technological details, Freeman invites these houses and gardens to reveal their essential uncanniness. He apparently likes blinds, which are usually shown drawn or half open, as though expressing the closed-off feeling of these buildings and the willed blindness of their residents. He also seems fascinated by buttons—the digits on an answering machine or a TV remote. which hint at a kind of dislocated contact with the outside world.

Most of the videos’ cinematic scenarios are unpeopled, though we do catch an occasional glimpse of a blurry face or a hand sporting a gleaming wedding ring. Freeman’s human subjects appear mostly in a suite of staged color photographs in another comer of the gallery. In this series, “Making the Nature Scene,” a woman stands in profile holding a cocktail, while the shot focuses on the comer of the room behind her. Another woman washes pots and pans, pouring Joy into the sink. A third, wearing a pleated white tennis dress, stands in the comer of a darkened outdoor court. In these momentary dramas, gestures and moods are exaggerated, partly through high-contrast lighting; the alienation feels method-acted. Here, as elsewhere in the show, Freeman wears his influences on his sleeve; the scenes combine the distant-feeling opulence of Tina Barney, the cool snapshot style of Nan Goldin, and the cinematic grotesquerie of Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson.

Two light installations picked up on the themes of denatured nature, surveillance, and claustrophobia. 2-Way Yellow Room, near the entrance of the exhibition space, consisted of a rectangular Plexiglas Dan Graham-style booth, open at one end, with a ceiling of industrial fluorescent lights. Inside the booth, you were treated to distorted reflections of yourself in a curtailed hall of funhouse mirrors, bathed in the kind of greenish light that might be found illuminating a cheap office. As if behind one-way glass in a police interrogation room, you couldn’t see out, but your rather jaundiced form could be observed by other visitors. In Changing Light in the Corner, Freeman projected different hues of blue onto a wall, creating the impression of passing clouds in an otherwise empty sky.

The sound track to the video projections included a digitally altered sample from the Spice Girls’ anthem “Wannabe” (“I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want”), which made desire sound like anguish, as well as the spooky opening chords from Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” In the song, Robert Plant follows those electric-organ notes with “Close the door / Put out the light”—exactly what this gloomy yet smart show makes you feel like doing.

Nico Israel