Oded Hirsch at Thierry Goldberg: An Argument

by The AFC Staff on April 23, 2012 · 2 comments Reviews

Oded Hirsch, Halfman, 2009, color c-print, 40 x 50 inches

Some shows we just can’t shut up about. Oded Hirsch at Thierry Goldberg closed this Saturday, but he gets his own post regardless because we can’t stop spilling the verbiage on this show. Needless to say, we don’t all agree about the quality of this work.

Whitney Kimball: Oded Hirsch's videos make me want to leave New York to think about what art means for a while. Hirsch, perhaps taking a cue from Francis Alÿs, has organized workers from his home, a kibbutz in Israel, to perform collective tasks, many of which have no productive outcome. The actions amount to piling dirt, walking long distances, and wordless gatherings. For instance, a group of older people, who look like townspeople, or parents, stand together, silently, on a boat. It's both comical and deeply saddening; one day, this group of elders will be leaving us.

Another, 50 Blue, depicts Hirsch's brother pushing his wheelchair-bound father through a hilly, muddy landscape. They eventually reach a wooden platform in the ocean; a group of people in raincoats hoist the father up onto the tower, and he's left there. Like all of the videos in the show, it's weird and a little melodramatic, and the actors are clearly an actual community which has been staged– which made it feel all the more intimate. I like that this doesn't boil down to an easy answer.

We couldn't spend as much time as I would have liked here, simply because there are four videos, running several minutes each.

Will Brand: I agree that the obvious connection here has to be Francis Alÿs; they're both questioning the distinction between labour and production, rounding up lots of local civilians to help, and recording it on video.

Compared to Alÿs, Hirsch is a little more cinematic: where Alÿs creates a lot of mechanically-scripted, Conceptualist-style works, and then documents them straightforwardly (Vito Acconci's Following Piece might have been Alÿs's), Hirsch has a few visual gags that only really work on film, and not before. I'm thinking here of the boat in Habaita (2010), which seems to stand perfectly motionless in the water- I don't think that idea would work, visually, unless you had a still camera frame to judge its movement against. Also, there's a very nice visual towards the beginning of Nothing New #1 (2011), when the kibbutzniks are emerging from the bottom of the frame and gathering around the downed skydiver, where you notice that they've all brought the longest poles in the village, and they're holding them straight up. There's a wonderful sort of faux-simplicity about that shot, and it looks great on film.

Hirsch is also a bit weirder than Alÿs; where Alÿs's works end with a punchline, here there's a sense of wonder and country-kid naivete. With the boat piece, for instance, that's not a thought (“What if boats didn't rock?”) you'd have in your studio. That's a thought you'd have when you spend a lot of time being bored and looking at boats.

That's one of the things I liked about the show—there's a real sense of place. That boat feels like a specific boat that Hirsch spent a lot of time looking at. That shot of the villagers approaching the skydiver in Nothing New #1 also feels like that; the villagers are coming from a bunch of angles, but they seem to all know where they're going. That leads me to believe that this is a particular place, with a particular name (perhaps no more complex than “the phone poles over behind that one hill”), that you can say to local people and be understood. There's something about that specificity that makes me want to watch longer, or more closely, as though I'm going to figure out what makes this place distinct.

Anthony Espino: The visual effect of the outfits worn by the kibbutzniks led me to think of these performances as rituals rather than laborious tasks. While these collective efforts perform labor and construction, I walked away believing that I had experienced instructions for collective spiritual healing.

In the front of the gallery, there are photographs that act as nostalgic thumbnails of highlights from the films in the next room. Upon exiting the gallery, they became little memorials for the viewing experiences.

I found the placement of the projections a bit sporadic—Habaita was on the wall immediately to my right upon entering the room, and the remaining short films were projected onto a giant black prism in the center of the room.

WB: Yeah, that was a little awkward. I kept trying to position myself where I could see two of the three sides of the prism, but then some of the videos seemed to be linked chronologically, too—mostly because of the wheelchair guy—and I wasn't sure in what order to pay attention to them.

The alternative would be just projecting the videos outward from the center of the room, which makes it seem like the objective here was to keep me from watching all of them at the same time and getting distracted, or losing the sense of effort and duration. I immediately tried to circumvent that.

WK: This is nitpicking.

WB: It's nitpicking, but I think it's meaningful nitpicking. The way you show a video affects how you view it; for Hirsh's work, it seems to me that the display ought to suit narrative (within each video) and duration (to get the full effect of the labour involved). Standing on one side of a prism isn't as amenable to that as, say, a regular theatre-area with chairs would have been.

WK: I could see everything just fine. The projections were clear, the sound of each video didn't interfere with the others, and you have the option of watching them sequentially. If you're watching them strung together in a theater, you're probably going to miss out on half of them, and it was important to get a piece of each. There doesn't seem to be a master narrative; they're peculiar vignettes without dialogue. I appreciated the extra moment to figure out what was going on in each, and Hirsch rewards you for it.

WB: I just don't think you can build that giant triangle thing in the middle of the gallery and not have people comment on it. That's a deliberate move, and it's a pretty big one.

Paddy Johnson: I don't think anything was gained through this presentation. What additional information did I get from a walk-around film projection that I couldn't get from a single screen? I thought it was needlessly complicated. Also, I'm really surprised everyone had this much to say about the work. That's great, though it also makes me feel like a bit of a philistine when I say I found this work dreadfully boring. I saw this show twice, and each time I wondered why the hoisting a man in a wheelchair was supposed to be meaningful or compelling. It's nice to see the community gathered here, but the fact of the matter is, collective tasks with no productive outcome aren't really the things that bind us. Entertaining the idea that they might have some undefined benefit seems like navel-gazing to me.

WB: Well, yeah, they aren't the normal thing that binds us. I think the rarity of these events is part of the point. I agree that there's probably not as much to discover here as we're led to believe, but that's a common problem with this sort of process-over-product philosophy. It's as true here as it was in Ryan McNamara's last show at Elizabeth Dee, or the performance section of the Biennial, or the work of any number of artists right now. So that's at least a failure in good company.


Anonymous April 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I have nothing to add and I enjoyed your dialogue. Thank you.

Arthur April 24, 2012 at 9:18 am

I liked the triangle except that it confused me; I thought it would be doing more. Specifically, not having read a show paper or anything, and given the general consistency of the three pieces, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing three pieces or one: I sort of thought at first that it was one extended piece with different “movements” and the three screens were time-shifted within the same loop.

I would have actually much preferred that they show the pieces that way, even though they were separate, so you could either (1) sit in one place and watch all three as a cycle or (2) move around and watch a bit of each or the whole thing out of sequence. As is, the configuration was interesting but, indeed, a little confusing and annoying.

Regarding the substance, your reactions capture the range of my own: fascinating, boring, beautiful, evocative.

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