New York

Knut Åsdam

Tanja Grunert Gallery

Knut Åsdam deals with boundaries. both physical and metaphoric. By problematizing such apparently clear-cut categories as subject/object, internal/external, and private/public, Åsdam shows how slippery binary oppositions can be. The results are often uncanny. His 1995 video Untitled: Pissing, for instance, a tightly cropped crotch shot of a man wetting his pants, tracks a transgression of social and psychic boundaries and invokes an individual in neurotic crisis. Over the past six years Åsdam has broadened his horizons to tackle similar issues on a more collective scale. Training his camera on the architecture that surrounds us, the Norwegian-born artist has produced three works for his New York solo debut that, while less iconic than Untitled: Pissing, prove more resonant.

Psychastenia 10 Series 2, 2000–2001, a slide show of sixteen architectural exteriors, filled the first mom of the gallery. The latest installment in an ongoing series, these nocturnal images of urban housing developments continue Åsdam’s documentation of life in the hive of dystopian architecture. Presented in an ovoid viewing chamber constructed of black felt, the melancholy images of concrete exteriors bespeak imprisonment, and the muted green that pervades many of the photos recalls footage from night-vision surveillance cameras. The viewpoint here is decidedly externalized: Not only are these pictures of facades, but the photographs work to underscore our distance from the goings-on inside the buildings. The worlds of the lit interiors seem impenetrable—indeed, one budding is seen only through a chain-link fence.

In the second piece, Åsdam invites us in. Nestled in another chamber, Cluster Praxis, 2000, is an audio-video installation that emphasizes interiority and complicity. Moving quickly from an excavation site through selected Psychastenia facades to a teenage dance party, Cluster Praxis traces an ever-deepening subjectivity. The “objective” camera angle of the exterior shots gives way to a decidedly “subjective” first-person vantage, as the camera melts inconspicuously into a sea of undulating dancers. The highly theoretical and often stilted monologue Åsdam reads over the pulsing dance beats is not enough to keep our perceptual and critical faculties sharp, and by the time the screen flickers pure color from the dance-floor lights, our critical view of the architecture has slipped toward an uncomplicated immersion.

The most recent video here, Notes Towards a Dissipation of Desire, 2001, follows Cluster Praxis on a loop and seems to speak to the consequences of this collective lowered guard. The piece begins with a handheld camera making its way among several New York police trucks, ultimately arriving at an extremely orderly “demonstration” proceeding slowly up Park Avenue. Like Cluster Praxis, Notes is accompanied by a sound track of Åsdam’s abstruse texts. As the artist quotes Michel de Certeau on the ’68 riots, the footage cuts to a still image of a European police car being laid waste by angry teens. Here we are reminded that the twenty-first-century New York demonstrators—dutifully protesting at their appointed place and time, indeed, at the police department’s convenience—are but ghosts of radicalisms past. The camera’s viewpoint, consistently situated some distance behind the active agents, embodies this lag.

Considered together, Åsdam’s paired videos seem to argue that subjective absorption is both cause and consequence of political and economic oppression on the city streets. The pure internality of Cluster Praxis precludes any externalized political engagement, and desire is indeed dissipated. But Notes is not a call to arms. Åsdam, born in 1968, seems well aware that the radicalism of his birth year must be reconceived if it can ever be viable again. For the moment, however, this remains an uphill battle, and these work seem to mourn the loss of an active subject while illustrating the pitfalls of a colonized daily life.

Jordan Kantor