Omer Fast, Der oylem iz a goylem (The World Is a Golem), 2019, 4K video, color, sound, 24 minutes 40 seconds.

Omer Fast, Der oylem iz a goylem (The World Is a Golem), 2019, 4K video, color, sound, 24 minutes 40 seconds.

Omer Fast

In his exhibition “Surplus,” Omer Fast presented new and recent videos, drawings, and sculptures within domestic settings that appeared hastily abandoned. Arrangements of furniture, personal items, moving boxes, trash, and portrait busts covered with cherry pits (Cluster #2–#5, all 2020) created an ambience of transition and deterioration. Adding an eerie vibe, many of the artworks presented in these liminal spaces suggested that our increasingly connected and digitized world is haunted by specters.

An unmade bed surrounded by nearly empty bookshelves, open storage bins, a rumpled carpet, and stacks of cardboard boxes comprised the shambolic backdrop for Karla, 2020, a hologram projection of a disembodied talking head. Hovering near the bed, Karla—a digital phantom representing several people Fast interviewed about their work as content mediators for “the biggest platform for videos and music”— described the nightmare of watching and evaluating footage flagged by users and algorithms as pornographic, hateful, or extremely violent.

In another disorderly room, The Invisible Hand, 2018, played on a TV opposite a shabby gray couch. Commissioned by the Guangdong Times Museum and shot in Guangzhou, the film is based on a Jewish fairy tale about a spirit who curses people to always tell the truth. Days after its premiere, the movie was banned in China because depictions of ghosts are illegal there. More haunting than the film’s narrative is this censorship, an act of silencing by a repressive political regime that systematically bars content it fears might remind people of its own Big Brother role.

Like Karla, the subjects of A Place Which Is Ripe, 2020, describe a job that requires poring over hours of questionable video footage. In this case, it is not necessarily the content of the videos that is haunting, but rather the way it was collected. In a multichannel video played across three smartphones placed in an open and otherwise empty dresser drawer, two Scotland Yard detectives discuss their use of CCTV surveillance. The question of whether the number of crimes solved thanks to these cameras justifies the constant covert filming of millions of ordinary citizens ultimately remains unanswered.

For Fast, all these works relate to a self-portrait drawn by Max Beckmann in 1917, when the German artist was in the midst of a nervous breakdown brought on by his work as a medic during World War I. Untitled M.B (Cloud), 2020, covered a wall and table in the gallery’s basement with Fast’s obsessive copies of Beckmann’s drawing on different papers, including envelopes and a set of IKEA instructions. With half-closed eyes, downturned lips, and awkwardly clasped hands, Beckmann appears subsumed by the atrocities he witnessed. There are hints of Karla and the Scotland Yard officers in Fast’s copies, as well as a link to the protagonist of another film on view, Der oylem iz a goylem (The World Is a Golem), 2019. In this piece, also based on a Jewish fairy tale, the ghost of an Orthodox man visits a blonde female skier on a chairlift. The apparition taunts her and quickly gets under her skin. By the end of the film, the woman has been driven completely mad and even takes on the form of her tormentor. She curls her hair into sidelocks and tries on a black hoiche, or high-crowned felt hat, before venturing out into the snowdrifts at night. Her rapid departure from reality echoed through the exhibition’s series of vacated rooms, each haunted by someone’s psychotic break.