New York

Meredith Danluck, Good News/Bad News, 2013, two-channel HD-video projection, color, sound, 13 minutes 3 seconds.

Meredith Danluck, Good News/Bad News, 2013, two-channel HD-video projection, color, sound, 13 minutes 3 seconds.

Meredith Danluck

Leslie Fritz

Meredith Danluck, Good News/Bad News, 2013, two-channel HD-video projection, color, sound, 13 minutes 3 seconds.

In Good News/Bad News (all works 2013), a two-channel video by Meredith Danluck, fifteen actors answer a telephone. The first channel, projected on one wall, shows the performers reacting to good news, while the second channel, projected on an adjacent wall, shows them reacting to bad. In each iteration, the script is roughly the same: A phone rings, an actor answers it, says “Hello?” and “Yes? Yes! Yes!”—or “No! Oh, no, no, no”—then, “Thank you,” and hangs up. After that, another performer appears, and it all happens again.

The scenes take place in an anonymous room. It is dully illuminated by a single lamp and by light weakly filtering through slats of vertical blinds. There’s a dresser, an anodyne painting, two chairs flanking an end table, and a telephone. The actors are dressed nicely, even formally. No clues are given about the contents of the phone call (though one woman, deviating slightly from the script with a whispered “I did it!” after her good-news call, seems to have some sort of story in mind). The scenario—with its unknown news and unknown consequences—is almost perfectly, seamlessly free of context, and, by virtue of its repetition, comes to resemble an existential nightmare or Ionesco play. Occasionally, between actors, the camera pans over a clock that’s not otherwise visible and always shows the same time.

The actors’ differing approaches invite us to anatomize the variations and the samenesses of anticipation and apprehension: One woman flees the room directly after hanging up; a man paces in an agitated manner or hums happily to himself; a child sits eerily still whether the news is good or bad (he seems beamed in from a Stephen King tale). Some of the actors are hammy, others subtle. In one pair of clips, a woman’s reactions to the good and bad news are both very slight, in fact nearly indistinguishable. On the opposite end of the emotive spectrum, some actors convey joy and despair with excess; in their cases, too, elation and devastation look similar, bringing to mind the laughing, crying woman of Sam Taylor-Wood’s Hysteria, 1997. There are multiple fist pumps, mouths covered in disbelief.

Good News/Bad News is a close cousin of Christian Marclay’s Telephones, 1995, a supercut of movie clips featuring actors dialing,answering, and talking on phones in all manner of emotional states. If Marclay’s work is a taxonomic look at the filmic conventions of that instrument, Danluck shows us the spell those conventions cast. The characters’ gestures are often reminiscent of ultrafamiliar tropes—from movies, of course, but also reality television and perhaps (given the fist pumps and the variations on end-zone dancing) sports. This creates a discomforting effect of unreality. These staged reactions are modeled on the reactions of people who have already modeled their reactions on those they’ve seen on-screen.

Two other looped video works, Fight Scene and Kiss, tread similar ground of cinematic convention and expectation. In the former, two men take part in a brawl that never reaches any resolution; in the latter, a camera swirls around a man and woman locked in a smooch and then circles each participant kissing digital simulations of him- or herself. Although not as effective as Good News/Bad News in inducing a vertiginous lurch between film and life, they remind us of how frequently we cross that gap.

Emily Hall