London

Beatrice Gibson,  I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead, 2018, 16 mm, color, sound, 20 minutes 47 seconds.

Beatrice Gibson, I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead, 2018, 16 mm, color, sound, 20 minutes 47 seconds.

Beatrice Gibson

Camden Arts Centre

If I had to select a favorite scene from the two unforgettable films in Beatrice Gibson’s exhibition “Crone Music,” I’d choose the closing sequence of I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead (all works 2018), which shows the artist and her five-year-old son, Obie, dancing wildly to Corona’s 1993 disco anthem “The Rhythm of the Night.” The film takes its title from a poem by CAConrad, who appears in it alongside Eileen Myles. Inspired by the final scene of Claire Denis’s 1999 film Beau Travail, which saw actor Denis Lavant breaking into a frenetic solitary dance to the same song before the mirrored walls of a nightclub, Gibson’s mother-and-son remake is an exuberant performance. The pair are not so much engaged in a raucous pas de deux as they are moving to their own beat, to their own inner music. They are happily alone, together.

Another especially gripping scene occurs in Gibson’s companion film, Deux soeurs qui ne sont pas soeurs (Two Sisters Who Are Not Sisters), loosely based on a short play by Gertrude Stein. A desperately weeping Adam Christensen—a natural scene-stealer, all glam-rock good looks and intense emotional presence—is violently pulled from the passenger seat of a stranger’s car, mascara-rimmed eyes communicating feelings of persecution and fear. Elsewhere, a mother gently tells her three young children about strange dreams in which they feature. Her offspring listen silently, but appear mostly glad just to remain quietly in their mother’s warm company. Another woman chain-smokes in what seems an empty dance club, reflecting on pregnancy: how impossibly close the baby would be, how extremely alone they each will feel.

“I thought I was alone but I wasn’t, because there was a shadow of a person to my right,” states the voice-over in Deux soeurs, and this existential paradox—of feeling alone despite the unremitting presence of others—is Gibson’s abiding theme. The performers, even a joyriding Parisian poodle at Deux soeurs’s close, rarely share the screen; the camera lavishes attention on their singularity. An exception is the long shadowy sequence that opens I Hope I’m Loud, which depicts in disjointed flashes a suffocating subway ride endured by the artist. The claustrophobic and alienating human contact that one suffers daily in the London tube could hardly be described as a healthy collective experience, Gibson might have been suggesting.

The artist’s interrogation of shared isolation extended to a packed schedule of gallery events, including readings (by poet Alice Notley, among others); film screenings; and experimental music workshops with Laurence Crane, who composed Deux soeurs’s haunting soundtrack. Myles conducted a “Write-In” intended “strictly for dreamy” writing, according to the program notes, offering viewers a chance to work “in the vicinity of other thinking writing bodies.” Rather than concocting some forced community—a term Gibson has questioned—the artist reconfigured the gallery as a site for multiple social experiments into “shared individual experience.”

During the ten wintry weeks of “Crone Music,” while the Camden Arts Centre throbbed with music and vibrant socio-creative possibilities, the calamitous battle of Brexit raged a few miles south in the Houses of Parliament. The contrast reminded me of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fourteenth—century frescoes, Allegories of Good and Bad Government. Gibson resists overt political message-making—Trump’s 2017 inaugural address provides nothing more than uncommented background noise in I Hope I’m Loud—but the artist brings the unique value of an art institution sharply into focus. It is a place in which to imagine some new basis for a functioning, livable society. I’m siding with the dreamers.