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The Light Between Us

The Light Between Us, is Part 2 of an Online Video Exhibition curated by Julio César Morales. With works by Allora & Calzadilla, Javier Castro, Petra Cortright, Ana Teresa Fernández, Kate Gilmore, Jennifer Locke, Anthony McCall, Ranu Mukherjee, Eamon Ore-Giron, Marco Rios, and Shahzia Sikander.

With all the hours spent at home over the last year, I had the chance to mine my record collection and get reacquainted with Rashaan Roland Kirk, a phenomenal experimental Jazz player and composer. His debut album entitled, The Inflated Tear (1967), is dark, introspective, gorgeous, and above all pure and raw emotion! Kirk was known to play 3 or 4 saxophones at the same time, pass out plastic toy instruments to encourage the audience’s participation, and he was the first artist to sample himself “live” on tape and loop it. Not surprisingly, the record reflected the social climate of the time—1968, a year that saw the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and student riots around the world. For me, this album, and his Blacknuss (1972) album, connected strongly to the uprisings and unrest of 2020, while leaving an urgent, hopeful, and affirmative message. 

Just as these albums helped me navigate our uncertain times, they influenced my selection of videos for The Light Between Us . The videos address issues of labor, migration, loss, intimacy, and our relationship to the environment, both psychological and physical. Curated in the same vein as a vinyl record, side “A” (Part I of the video program La Luz Entre Nosotros) contains the long play videos, while side “B” (The Light Between Us) contains the shorter length videos, both of which address the topics at hand. 

I hope these videos will serve as a glimmer of hope towards our immediate future and continue to advance struggles towards a more just and equitable culture with art being centered around these conversations and as a form of social activism.

Landscape for fire! (1972) is an early work by film/sculpture/light pioneer Anthony McCall. The performance captures ritual-like movements with fire that are composed and lit in geometrically aligned,precise temporal progression. This represents one of the first films that shows a performance piece as not being “documentation” and static, but rather engages with the performers from multiple perspectives where the camera becomes another focal character in the project.

Color of History, Sweating Rocks (2010) by Ranu Mukherjee is part of a body of  work  the artist calls “hybrid film,” which animates  still images to create videos. This work explores forced migration, highlighting the plight of the peoples of the Sahara—and refugees in general—who have been displaced by oil-mining. The silent video slowly reveals the gentle and fluid colors of a desert  landscape that is overrun, and eventually swallowed, by a dark moving mass.

Bite Work (2011) by Eamon Ore-Giron is an experimental genre-bending video that is part performance, part conceptual, and part comical in addressing issues of mediation, surveillance, and trust. The figures in the video wear traditional dance masks from Peruvian  La Chonguinada rituals, while attempting to dance as trained military dogs attack them. 

Kate Gilmore’s performance for the camera, Higher Horse (2008), finds the artist attempting to hold her ground  against two menacing  men who are aggressively crashing and smashing a pile of concrete blocks the artist stands atop of. . The artist’s signature use of bright colors to accent or add drama to the actions is visible, revealing a power struggle between social conditioning and expectations. In an interview I did with Gilmore for the exhibition Energy Charge: Connecting to Ana Mendieta at ASU Art Museum in 2017, she stated, “Making work as an artist, we need to be heard, tell our story, let people in. However one can best do this, needs to be done. We can’t bow down.”

Choke (2005) is part of Jennifer Locke’s wrestling series, in which she creates constructed situations critiquing the “male” gaze. She flips traditional gender roles on their head by participating as the subject, spectator and producer of the film. Her durational performance works are constantly pushing physical and mental boundaries, often drawing from her experiences as a dominatrix, wrestler, and artists’ model.

Returning A Sound (2004) by Allora & Calzadilla counters the sonic violence imposed on Puerto Rico by US military exercises over the course of 60 years. In the video, a local activist drives through the landscape on a moped whose muffler was replaced by a trumpet—giving voice back to the locals through an improvised soundtrack. 

In Crygasm (2010), Marco Rios turns the camera on his own inability to cry to create a “moving” self-portrait. Letting the floodgates run wide open, the image accumulates into a monumental statue. The artist uses his personal experiences, desires, failures and longing, alongside humor, to address more solemn issues of death and despair. 

The Last Post (2010) is Shahzia Sikander’s mind bomb that illustrates an undoing of time. Layered with drawings and paintings, the artist creates a desolate and beautiful journey through time and space. The work opens with the image of a miniature painting of a colonial figure, which slowly dissolves in a hallucinatory vision that takes the viewer on a voyage through history to the period of the British Opium trade with China and the subsequent wars. The work includes an original soundtrack  by Du Yun. 

Petra Cortright’s post-internet video, Sickhands (2011),  is an alternative self-portrait that utilizes mundane consumer electronics to create a cheap visual trick that is alluring and addictive to watch. The work references  the transitional fidelity of analog video to the 1990’s introduction of digital tape that led to non-destructive editing. 

Borrando La Frontera (2011) is Ana Teresa Fernández’s artistic breakthrough in which  she connects her painting practice to her video and performance works for the first time.  Fernández’s work is the result of the simple gesture of painting the border wall between Mexico and the United States to match the color of the sky peeking through the slats, so that when viewed at a certain angle the fence blends into the landscape behind it and simply disappears. The performance is a poetic and political tour-de-force  that comments on  immigration rights, female empowerment, and the abolition of border walls.  

Negro sobre Negro (Black on Black) (2008) and Blanco sobre Blanco (White on White) (2014) by Javier Castro, are videos shot with available natural light in the style of documentary street photography, and reveal two subjects with different colored skin. The short videos question what it means to “come to the light,” to be in focus or out of focus, what are the ramifications of having black or white skin?  The abstract portraits probe the power dynamics associated with privilege and how they play out in identity politics.

– Julio César Morales