New York

Babette Mangolte

BROADWAY 1602 | Uptown

For “Collision,” her second solo show at Broadway 1602, avant-garde filmmaker and documentary photographer Babette Mangolte opted, as the title suggests, to bring together the many materials, methods, and periods of her production. Mangolte is, of course, known by now—the woman behind the lens, producing images of so many of the most germinal performances of the 1970s and beyond; without her, we would have much less of the still scant “proof” of events by Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Whitman, and Richard Foreman, to name just a few. But although Mangolte’s complicated position as “documenter” of ephemeral actions has recently begun to receive serious attention (regarding the ways in which her images operate after the fact, for instance; or how she is, as cameraperson, both present and totally absent, rarely pictured), her various modes of production are too often held apart. “Collision” insists that we consider the implications of her limber ocular drive, and in so doing that we reassess the presumptions that still impel categorical divisions between these modes.

Indeed, if Mangolte does not appear in any of the photographs or films on view here (save a stray snapshot in the back room, not actually in the show, of the artist capturing her own image by way of camera and mirror), she nonetheless deftly points to the ways in which she is always considering her own position in relationship to her subject. In a recent essay addressing precisely this topic, Mangolte describes the constant “contradiction between objectivity and specificity [as] a balancing act between two opposite pulls.” Without wanting, while documenting, say, a performance by Joan Jonas, to inadvertently allow her own aesthetic taste to determine the shots, Mangolte nonetheless admits that some subjective criteria is in play while obtaining pictures with any kind of “specificity.” This specificity, as Mangolte has it, relies on a balance between “instinct and reason,” one driven by an attentiveness to the live event, but also by an understanding that any image made of it will persist as an autonomous object.

“Collision” included a handful of framed, behind-glass, properly hung-on-the-wall iconic performance images (including those of Whitman’s 1976 Light Touch and Rainer’s 1972 Lives of Performers) and also a table covered with digital printouts of reams of contact sheets and pictures taken by Mangolte. This latter component, a loose approximation of an archive, is one half of an installation called Touching (Collage), 2008, and its materials are meant to be picked up, rifled through, looked at. If Mangolte’s insistence on bringing old images into the present isn’t already clear, the second half of Touching drives the point home. A television monitor placed on the floor plays footage of New York from the 1970s, both moving and still images—of loft gatherings and the Twin Towers, for example—woven together and cut with segments of Mangolte’s own early films. The result is a strangely touching tapestry that shows just how distant that era is but also insists on a kind of deep proximity between then and now.

Two new videos were included in “Collision.” These were Striving, 2008, an approximately thirty-minute loop in which the headlights of a car push forward along a dark road at night, accompanied by a sound track by Anthony Burr, and Straining, 2008, a short, jumpy composition in which olive leaves and sycamore trees shift and stutter, nothing more than they are, yet unnaturally anxious. With these recent films, Mangolte suggests that there is never any rest for the attentive eye.

Johanna Burton