New York

Andrea Geyer, Feeding the Ghost, 2019, slide projectors, projector stands, books, sandbags, furniture, lamps, 60-minute voice-over. Installation view.

Andrea Geyer, Feeding the Ghost, 2019, slide projectors, projector stands, books, sandbags, furniture, lamps, 60-minute voice-over. Installation view.

Andrea Geyer

For many viewers, the 35-mm slide projectors of Andrea Geyer’s Feeding the Ghost (all works 2019) evoked darkened college seminar rooms. Her use of multiple such devices was entirely consistent with the studious tone that they connote. In fact, Geyer’s project, shown as an installation at Hales Gallery, was originally presented as a performance lecture at Manhattan’s Dia Art Foundation in October 2018. It consisted of several functioning but empty projectors—some perched on stands, others teetering atop stacks of books—surrounded by wooden tables and chairs. It also featured an audio recording of Geyer describing the time she watched the late Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman perform an hour-long reading from her 1998 book A Family in Brussels at Dia in October 2001.

If this accumulation of nested references threatened to overwhelm, the effect was perhaps not entirely unintentional. Geyer’s practice consistently addresses the complexities of social and political history, and the ways other artists engage these issues—so such a density of information is to be expected. Akerman’s reflections on death, survival, and memory included in Feeding the Ghost spark a branching meta-narrative in which Geyer’s identity gradually becomes confused with that of the filmmaker, their experiences echoing one another in defiance of any singular or linear account. (Akerman’s text documents the life of her mother, whose husband is nearing death. The story is interwoven with larger politically and economically driven currents of loss throughout modern Europe.)

Geyer entwines Akerman’s tale further into her own, meditating on the lives and deaths of artist contemporaries and on the profoundly unsettled and uncertain climate of New York post-9/11. This fusion of voices was initially confounding but ultimately relatable—a sympathetic attempt to find common ground between outwardly diverse experiences that gained traction the more we heard Geyer’s melancholic recitation. The sense remained, however, that her aims were likely better realized in her performance at Dia last fall, with the audience seated in the middle of the room. Freed from any obligation to spend a full hour with the piece, most visitors to Hales would likely have heard a mere fragment—the work performed as a souvenir of itself.

The visual resonance of Feeding the Ghost <em>remained intact, </em>its multiple overlapping blank projections recalling another slide-projector piece, Luis Camnitzer’s Art History Lesson, 2000. A more diffuse atmosphere and still more disjointed set of remembrances would have taken precedent over the switchback on mortality and the encroachment of past into present that was advanced in the original version. And two large unframed silk-screen prints that lurked in the half-light toward the back of the space functioned to point in yet another direction and to lend the exhibition its title, “On this day.” One depicted the activist athletes Colin Kaepernick and Eli Harold of the San Francisco 49ers, while the other showed the gun-control activist and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Emma González. The pieces were hung from their corners and inscribed with the word witness in white lettering, suggesting an unreconstructed homage to key figures in current sociopolitical debates. These works formed an oddly blunt accompaniment to the show’s larger, explicitly “retro” vibe, dragging us into the American here and now. Yet they also accentuated the didacticism of Geyer’s installation. After all, listening to a story is one thing, but sitting through a lecture quite another.