Dreamlands at the Whitney

Opening on October 28 at the Whitney Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016 is an exhibition that chronicles visual and sensory explorations of the cinematic space through use of technology.

After Oskar Schlemmer (1888–1943)
Das Triadische Ballett [Triadic Ballet], 1970
35mm film transferred to video, color, sound; 29 min. 
Courtesy Global Screen, Munich
Produced by Bavaria Atelier for the Südfunk, Stuttgart, in collaboration with Inter Nationes and RTB (Belgian Television)
Director: Helmut Amann
Choreography and costume designs: Oskar Schlemmer, 1922
Artistic advisors: Ludwig Grote, Xanti Schwinsky, and Tut Schlemmer
©1970 Bavaria Atelier for SWR in collaboration with Inter Nationes and RTB

This exhibition is chronologically organized into three parts.  On entering the fifth floor gallery, the exhibition starts with a large video projection of Oskar Schlemmer's Das Triadische Ballett (1922 /1970).  It is a 35mm film transfer of the Schlemmer's ballet with color and a music score produced by Bavaria Atelier for the Südfunk in collaboration with Inter Nations and RTB (Belgian Television).  The ballet is whimsical and the vivd colors gave the production a contemporary feel.  On a chess board like floor the dancers bounce about like machined puppets moving to the rhythm of an abstract sound score.  The mesmerizing narrative is a love story between machine and man.  To the side, visitor can enjoy the original dance of archival footage by Oskar Schelmmer produced in 1926.

Dreamlands is an exhibition organized not only by time but also by visual and sensory experience that highlight the changes in use of digital media.  Through a blue neon-light grid of an otherwise pitch dark hallway, Hits Steyerl's Factory of the Sun (2015).

Hito Steyerl (b. 1966), Factory of the Sun, 2015. High-definition video, color, sound; 22:56 min., looped; with environment, dimensions variable. Installation view: Invisible Adversaries, Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 2016. Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; Marieluise Hessel Collection. Image courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York. Photograph by Sarah Wilmer

The dizzying three-dimensional grid is what one would find in a motion capture studio where body movements are recorded and then transferred for use in computer generated images.  The installation is equipped with comfortable beach chairs and the work can be enjoyed leisurely with out sense of hurry.  The video features of a group of amateur techno dancers led by an seasoned dancer, while he is moving suavely without missing a beat.  This sequence brings to mind a virtual reality video game where the player follows along movements while the motion sensors capture the player's movements. Playing in between the dancing are choppy newsreels.  The mock newscast reports information in a mixture of semi-reality to non-sense rubbish.

What makes this exhibition a full experience is not just that it calls for one's sensory exploration of the voice-activated pieces and ones that involve stimulates one's olfaction, but the various kinds of emotional response it triggers.

Mathias Poledna, Imitation of Life, 2013
35mm color film, optical sound,
3:00 min,
35mm frame enlargement
Courtesy of Mathias Poledna;
Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna;
Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin;
Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles

I first saw Mathias Polenda's Imitation of Life (2013) in 2013 at the 55th edition of Venice Biennial.  This piece had the same effect on me as the first time I saw it.  What makes this a wonderful work is the subtext  Walking through the once again, pitch dark hall is a screening room and a lovely 1936 tune "I've Got a Feelin' You're Foolin'" leaks out into the ear.  The funny little song has been edited and tailored to accompany Polenda's animated video.  What is not included at the Whitney show is the numerous studio sketches that made this classic Disney-like animation.  A little donkey dress in a sailor outfit dances dreamily and happily in the style of Gene Kelley.  In the context of contemporary enterntainment, it makes the naïve and carefree happiness manifested in this work look ridiculous.

Alex Da Corte (b. 1980) with Jayson Musson (b. 1977). Easternsports, 2014. Four-channel video, color, sound; 152 min., with four screens, neon, carpet, vinyl composition tile, metal folding chairs, artificial oranges, orange scent, and diffusers. Score by Devonté Hynes. Collection of the artists; courtesy David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen, and Salon 94, New York. Installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 2014 © Alex Da Corte; image courtesy the artist and Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania

Easternsports (2014) is a collaborate work by Alex Da Corte and Jayson Musson.  This video installation unlike the other ones in this show it smells.  Before entering into the experience, there are four panels of neon lights flashing signs and symbols complementing the narrative in the video.  Inside the open cube, artificial oranges with faint smells of the citrus fruit are scattered all over floor.  The look of the interior space suggests it was intentionally built to match the mise en scène of the video story.   According to the wall label, their story is based on Thornton Wilder's play called Our Town (1938).  This piece also pays a homage to Oskar Schlemmer's choreography and design for Das Triadische Ballett.

All in all Dreamlands is an exhibition suited for visitors with various degrees of understanding in cinema and visual art.  There are sketches and drawing by Disney Studio artists for the 1940s Fantasia that are quite stunning.  Some pieces in the show requires physical and vocal activation that can be entertaining for those who grew up using smartphones and playing virtual reality video games.  Meanwhile for those more knowledgeable and with more interest in visual art, there are film works by Joseph Cornell and his Rose Hobart (1936) is my favorite in the show.  In this film the artist cuts out a strip of black-and-white film of the 1931 movie called East of Borneo.  With color filter projection and mixture of footage taken elsewhere the piece heightens the emotive acting in the original version and creates a sub-conscious dream space.  Bruce Conner's CROSSROADS (1976), a montage of declassified military footage of underwater testings of atomic bomb explosions is both spectacular and destructive.  It makes one realizes the catastrophic and destructive potential of advanced technology.

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