Los Angeles

View of “Patrick Staff,” 2012.

View of “Patrick Staff,” 2012.

Patrick Staff

Monte Vista Projects

View of “Patrick Staff,” 2012.

Since the summer of 2007, Monte Vista Projects has operated as an artist-run cooperative space in Los Angeles’s Highland Park neighborhood. The venue’s commitment to communal programming made it an apt location for London-based artist Patrick Staff to bring together a selection of his collectively produced projects. Though the three works on view in this show, represented in as many videos, involved different participants and sites, the practice of “collective authorship” was central to all. For each piece, Staff had orchestrated a group encounter, which was then recorded on video in a workaday manner typical of performance documentation, save for one fundamental difference: Anyone involved could take a turn behind the lens. Though the individual works engage a range of subjects, the limitations and blind spots of collective action perhaps trumped all else in Staff’s show.

The earliest of the three works presented, Life in the Woods, 2011, began with Staff and Berlin-based artist Olivia Plender putting out an open call for “participants to live together at a woodland site, as an exercise in communal living and collaborative filmmaking.” Their premise might have been lifted from a PBS-type “educational” reality show. But in practice, Staff and Plender’s conceit gave way to a week of trust falls and free-associative roundtable discussions peppered with just enough nude interpretive dance to make the footage unsafe for broadcast. Notably, the participants themselves chose this agenda of activities, and their own varied interests were what led the video to touch on such far-flung topics as the queerness of magic and the significance of folk culture. Home Economies, a publication made in conjunction with this work, offers ample information on the history of intentional communities, but the video, for all its variety of content, somehow seems blank, hinting at some larger issue but never effectively channeling it.

Like Life in the Woods, Staff’s The Nudist in Two Parts: performance workshop 1, 2012, alludes to a wide range of precedents without engaging anything too distinct. As this work similarly documented a group of participants—here, assuming poses copped from vintage naturist photography—one longed for a more structured presentation, more of a backstory, or at least some break or node that would point toward what exactly was at stake in the project.

The most recent project represented here, False Dog, Carrion Spring, 2012, at first seemed poised to provide this needed anchoring. Made in collaboration with independent curator Robin Simpson during a joint residency on Fogo Island in the remote northeast of Canada, the piece responds to the region’s past engagement with community-based filmmaking: a series of documentaries made in 1967—by Bill Nemtin and Colin Low, a local academic and filmmaker, respectively—that served to organize the economically depressed Fogo Island populace around shared opposition to a government-proposed relocation program. Inspired by this precedent, Staff and Simpson explored their residency’s role in the island’s current economic development by enlisting employees of the Shorefast Foundation (the residency’s sponsor) in a reading group to be recorded on video. However, the issues proposed for discussion, as with the topics that waft through Staff’s other two projects, are only ever obliquely addressed.

Arguably, Nemtin and Low’s Fogo project worked because it allowed the community members for whom and by whom it was made to articulate its concerns with specificity. Had Staff and Simpson likewise taken a direct approach, they might have productively foregrounded the relationship between a nonprofit exhibition space and the economic transformation of its surrounding community. Though the projects in this show ultimately seem light on politics, their disconnect resonated at Monte Vista, which has had no problem garnering an audience of recent MFAs attracted to the neighborhood by affordable studio spaces even as the venue struggles to engage the very local community its audience threatens to displace.

Ben Carlson