Monday, June 16, 2014

Camille Henrot is Hot to Trot

Grosse Fatigue, 2013 still image, Video (color, sound), 13 min

Sometimes this city surprises you.  And when that surprise is in the form of museum shows, it is even more brain sparkly then most.  Currently on view at the New Museum are two very good shows.  The first is Ragnar Kjartansson’s: Me, My Mother, My Father, and I.  If this show was on its own, then I would go into it but alas, it isn’t (please do go see it though).  This show is on floor four.  On floor two is a show by French born, New York based artist Camille Henrot and it made my brain so sparkle filled that I can only think of it at this moment.

Entitled The Restless Earth, and curated by the charmed Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari,  this mini survey  of works by Henrot is my first introduction to her work.  I am not one of those people who value pretending to know everything and this exhibition being my first entry into her work has been exciting and rejuvenating.

Camille Henrot (b. 1978), is a type of artist that has existed before/does exist now but there is something so…contemporary…about her ‘style’ that it was captivating to see.  She makes a lot of things in many mediums but her strongest works (nay most formalized) is her video works.  On view is her video Grosse Fatigue, 2013 (video, color, sound, 13 mins), that compiles source material from the Smithsonian, which she recently had an artist’s research fellowship.  This video is near the beginning of the show and it sets the tone very clearly. 

The video is clever in its editing and compositional formatting.  The desktop screen and the ‘window(s)’ and how it is layered and zoomed create a tool of presentation.  There is a narrative being read in a male voice.  That voice doesn’t sound professional but the quality of the voice seems to legitimize what is being said.  The video is comprised of images, it isn’t a video that has arc, a story per se, but it moves swiftly, with purpose and the accumulation of what you are seeing is like a Rolodex of the universe. 

There is music too.  This is an element that was enjoyable but also a bit compromising (perhaps).  There is a pacing and a quick, coolness of the images that make you think ‘music video’ even though you know that was never the point.  The images are very crisp, super directed and there is little confusion that what you are seeing is exactly what Henrot wants you to see.

There is another video work, The Strife of Love in a Dream, 2011 that rabbit holes into the world of snakes that is not as hypnotic as Grosse Fatigue but still pursues what seems to be Henrot’s motivation to being an artist.  Henrot’s video, and other work reflect the artist as ethnographer, artist as explorer, artist as scientist, artist as theorist, artist as researcher.  This may sound a bit belittling but that’s not what I mean.  I think that an artist can be, should be, any iteration of art-self they see fit to form the work they make.  BUT, I do think that it should be noted that ‘artist as’ is not ‘as, as.’  Does that make any sense?  Henrot is an artist, a damn fine one.  She uses the tools and has created a system of cataloguing, compiling, displaying images and objects to express ideas through the act of making and presenting. 

Other artists do this, have done this, still do this, art as a form of anthropology, sociology, etcetera, etcectra.  This makes for very good art but a lot of the time it feels so damn colonial empire that it wreaks of voyeuristic privilege but somehow Henrot, at least for me, gets a pass.  The reason I think this is, is because she has that contemporary something that makes it not so much about the anthropologizing of things but the visual culture mash up reveal of things.

The idea of art and visual culture being separate but related things has in the past decade, or so, become more and more indistinct.  People are getting shown, getting paid, getting kudos for putting a Nike sweatband on a watermelon or some such god awful thing.   The whole grandchildren/inheritors of Duchamp, Warhol conversation in defense of this form of art is so see through that it is literally the emperor has no clothes shit going on. 

There is a straddle occurring though.  People using the pop, consumer, material residue of today to reflect this ‘now’ is so important and necessary.  To me, Henrot’s success is not about showing the actual things in the way some people do today, but of delving into the why, where, and how of those things.  She is investigating archetypes, evolution, the id, ego, and super ego of symbols, forms, and ritual.  To get to this, she uses an array of sources; flowers, archives, new images, old images, drawings, old and new objects and vintage film and this use through her hand/brain/what have you is splendid.

‘This is what art does!’ you may be screaming at the screen.  Yes and no.  Yes it does but more times then not, especially of late, it skims at the surface of this.  Henrot is not just doing it but doing it well. There are kinks, there are quirks, there is a cool, surfacy feeling to some of her work that seems perhaps unsustainable but more then anything you see, feel this deep, intense and honest fascination in her work.  This is felt in the editing, focus, directorial clarity of tone, and pace and rhythm which works near perfectly in her pieces, and that darlings, is where the magic is.

Henrot is so hot to trot right now, she is being covered, profiled and interview in this that and the other.  She is becoming a darling, an “it” girl, a must know entity and this is fascinating to watch and slightly appealing as god only knows we could use more art lady/art stars out there.

Go, go, go see this show.  It will make you want to read more, see more, think more and to take ikebana classes (I so totally want to).  Dissecting this world to reveal and to possibly revel in it is what Henrot’s kind of art is doing and that makes my brain tingle so much that is makes me very happy.