Andrea Geyer


In the modern metropolis, the individual is reduced to a negligible quantity, wrote German sociologist Georg Simmel in 1903. “He becomes a single cog as over against the vast overwhelming organization of things and forces which gradually take out of his hands everything connected with progress, spirituality, and value.” Andrea Geyer’s installation Parallax, 2003, portrays a female flaneur in an American metropolis, specifically New York, a century later. Geyer’s protagonist explores public space, poses in front of familiar monuments, and enters courtrooms, museums, and libraries. She embodies the citizen trying to claim her civil rights, only to encounter at every corner a “vast overwhelming organization of things and forces.” Perhaps it takes a newcomer to compile such a comprehensive record of the state of the union. Geyer is a German artist based in New York. From September 2001 through August 2003, she collected news clippings and took photographs, editing them into a fifty-minute slide show run through eight synchronized projectors. The sequence is looped so as to suggest that the nightmare has no end; and to optimize its effect the gallery is turned into a classroom. There is no sound, except for the projectors’ clicking and whizzing, which induces a trancelike attitude in the viewer. Bits of “reality,” including unsettling citations from the news, appear and vanish in the eight frames on the wide screen. The frames open and close like so many windows onto the world, now forming a unified panorama, now dispersing into fragments.

Geyer’s work is about the alienating condition of the metropolis, but above all it is a chilling commentary on the corrosion of democracy in the US after 9/11. The helicopters hovering in the background are surveilling not traffic but terrorism. While it is easy to see the content and commitment of Parallax, one should not ignore the formal rigor by which Geyer turns her school lesson into art. The didactic force of the work relies wholly on the visual enchantment offered by the rhythmic, almost symphonic composition of the images. Geyer turns the old-fashioned slide show into a new medium in its own right, crossing photography, cinema, narrative, and hypertext. She situates herself in the vicinity of Allan Sekula and Chris Marker, or of the Danish artist Pia Arke, whose photo-based narratives similarly suggest how the forces of history and society descend on a female alter ego. They all reinvent photography as documentary narrative. There is a realist intent, but not of the ordinary kind, not an attempt to represent reality but to make us see what obstructs our view of it.

Although Parallax has been shown in a number of places over the last few years, it has not yet found a venue in New York. That it deserves. It is an outstanding testimony to the charged atmosphere in the city during the nation’s mobilization for war. In evoking the multiple forces that have come to restrict New York’s public life and that threaten to reduce US democracy to an empty name, Parallax laments all that was betrayed: public institutions, active citizenry, an economy of inclusion, a carefree tolerance, the spirit of protest—all those fundamentals on which New York was built, once in a distant past.

Stefan Jonsson