New York

“Establishing Shot”

Artists Space Exhibitions

In filmic terms, “establishing shot” refers to the opening sequence of a scene, the images that spatially orient the audience and anchor subsequent events. Often a wide shot, or literally a long shot, it sets the location, characters, and mood of what follows, thus becoming a crucial—if often stymied (intentionally or otherwise)—point of narrative reference. At once an incipient lexicon of possibilities and a limit set within which such possibilities might arise, the singular, presumably intelligible establishing shot is really only legible within the resultant narrative sequence. Thus it often fails to establish much at all.

“Establishing Shot,” Christian Rattemeyer’s first curatorial gambit at Artists Space, mined this definition to augur the gallery’s forthcoming season through the work of ten artists who underscore the potential incompatibility between a work’s formal structure and its thematic points of reference. But what was on offer was really more a tracking shot than an establishing shot, including artists who are more often midcareer than emerging. Familiar names Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno, and Rirkrit Tiravanija collaborated on their own cinematic excursion via the deliciously ambiguous dialogue and character morphing of Vicinato, 1995 (which Höller, Parreno, and Tiravanija produced), and Vicinato 2, 1999 (which brought together all six artists), while Blake Rayne rethought and recoded a history of modernist painting, reaffirming its viability in works like the saturated and facture-laden, if oddly stark, No More Winter, We Are Tired of Your Free Coffee, 2003, and Dee Williams investigated the limits of order and rationality in constructions of history in a series of photo-and-text works documenting streets in Berlin named after natural scientists.

In the case of Gareth James’s sculpture of the mythical European curator and color theorist Storm van Helsing, the artist’s first attempt at a portrait of his quixotic alter ego, we gain insight into the stakes of that which is purportedly being “established” (or, better, refused), as his portrait is marked precisely by its shifting, indeterminate quality. Nothing more than some clothes dangling from the ceiling, the work is a canny placeholder to be variously inhabited by freewheeling acts of association and identification. As a disarmingly productive instance of conceptual displacement, it necessarily opens onto the notion of the artist as a fictional or fictionalized construction, here conceived not as a latter-day Rrose Sélavy but as a strangely anonymous site of cultural and social production.

It is perhaps in the work of Carlos Motta that the show’s theme is best articulated. Converging in a corner and fanning back out across two large walls, Motta’s epic Pesca Milagrosa, 2002—2004, comprises digitally altered ink-jet prints of more than five hundred missing Colombians downloaded from the Internet and positioned to form a massive Day-Glo grid. Themes as diverse as kidnapping in Latin America (the title, which translates, roughly, as “catching fish,” is taken from the motorway barricades erected by Colombian guerrillas to stop and capture passersby) and the status of the documentary in the age of global information and omnipresent manipulation surface and disappear into the same hazy, attenuated abstractions from which they emerged. The grid itself tapers off at its bottom right corner, signaling its deferred completion. Cold, neutral, resigned? Culpable, engaged, alarmed? If we are to take seriously the show’s conceit, it may be too soon to tell.

Suzanne Hudson