Here is an excellent review from our latest contributor, Mark Langshaw. Note that the exhibition ends on Sunday, March 19th 2006
Review – Christian Jankowski: Everything Fell Together @ FACT
By Mark Langshaw
On the 20th January FACT proudly unveiled the first major UK exhibition of the work of internationally renowned video artist Christian Jankowski. Based predominantly in Berlin and New York, Jankowski is known for his penchant for collaboration and the unexpected. Handing creative responsibility over to his collaborators, ‘Everything Fell Together’ is a critical examination of the relationship between Art and Commerce, and a thought-provoking investigation into the public’s perception of popular culture.
The depth and variety of this exhibition is immediately apparent. Spanning across all three of the centre’s exhibition spaces (Gallery 1, 2 and the Media Lounge) and even spilling out into the foyer, ‘Everything Fell Together’ is one of the largest projects FACT has undertaken since its opening in 2003.
Although the Media Lounge is the smallest of the three exhibition spaces, it houses one of this show’s centrepieces; a video installation entitled ‘The Matrix Effect.’ Thankfully, this piece bears no relation to the criminally overrated movie franchise; its name refers to a famous exhibition featured at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. When Jankowski was commissioned by this institution back in 2000, he became particularly engaged in the ‘Matrix’ programme and contacted several of its contributing artists along with curator Andrea Miller-Keller and former director Jim Elliot. He presented each of them with a list of questions regarding their contribution to the ‘Matrix’ project, and later transcribed and edited these interviews to produce a script for a documentary. Rather than cast the artists themselves in the documentary, Jankowski enlists untrained children to portray the individuals involved in ‘Matrix’.
It is amusing and endearing to watch the children struggle to adopt the art world vernacular, particularly when they mistakenly refer to art ‘critics’ as art ‘critters’. Jankowski’s engaging sense of humour is clearly on show as he pokes gentle fun at the art world, but this piece is essentially a homage to his predecessors at the Wadsworth institute. The framed photographs which accompany this video installation beautifully adorn the Media Lounge, but the interactivity usually associated with this space is nowhere to be found.
For anyone who enjoys public humiliation or a good sing song; the highlight of this exhibition is to be found in the largest of the exhibition spaces, Gallery 1. Inspired by Korean culture, ‘The Day We Met’ sees Jankowski assume the role of a karaoke video actor, collaborating with Tajin Media, a professional karaoke video team. Visitors are invited to sing along to four short video clips featuring Jankowski. The song selection is vast and wide ranging, including everything from the Beatles to the Beastie Boys. With a sadly high percentage of contemporary video art being esoteric, it is refreshing to see a piece that a universal audience can interact and connect with.
Surrounding the karaoke booth inside Gallery 1 are an array of photographs and a single monitor which collectively make up a piece entitled ‘Shamebox’, in which the artist invited passers by to sit in a storefront window and express their personal shame via large placards. Many of them are thought-provoking, although the monitor and several of the photographs could have been more prominently positioned within the gallery.
Also in Gallery 1, ‘This I Played Tomorrow’ consists of a multi-screen casting video and a 35mm film. Inspired by Italy’s equivalent to Hollywood, Cinecitta and the aspiring actors who congregate outside its gates hoping to one day be discovered. Jankowski interviewed these budding actors, presenting them with questions pertaining to their hopes, dreams, ideas and ambitions. As with the ‘Matrix Effect’ piece in the Media Lounge, the artist produced a script based on an amalgamation of their answers and cast the actors themselves in the resulting movie. All of the set and costume design was based around the responses and the movie itself was shot on the set of the 1966 film, Francesco d’Asisisi inside Cinecitta.
Adding some visual aesthetics to Gallery 1 are two vintage film projectors, one of which beams the UK premier of ‘16mm Mystery’ onto a wall. In this recent work, Jankowski handed his fate over to two special effects masterminds, The Brothers Strause, who have previously worked on such movies as Titanic and The Day After Tomorrow. The Brothers Strause, handed the perfect opportunity to flex their creative muscles, do so in style treating us to an exploding skyscraper. Although this comes across as slightly self indulgent, ‘16mm Mystery’ is extremely proficiently shot and gives us the rare opportunity of seeing an old style projector in a new media art gallery.
Gallery 2 houses several of Jankowski’s earlier works, dating back as far as 1996, as well as more recent pieces such as ‘The Holy Artwork’ which also appeared at TATE Liverpool. This piece is a record of the artist’s unscripted encounter with a televangelist during in a live sermon, the outcome of which was left entirely to chance.
Composing a piece of video artwork through the televangelist’s reactions, Jankowski feigns a collapse on stage as though possessed by the power of the sermon.
Older works such as ‘My Life As a Dove’, ‘Director Poodle’, and ‘Flock’, also on show in Gallery 2, are testament to Jankowski’s engaging sense of humour as well as how far he has come as a filmmaker when juxtaposed alongside his recent work.
On the whole, visitors are treated to an eclectic mixture of various ideas throughout the exhibition, but common threads are prominent, such as the relationship between the public and contemporary art. Thought-provoking and cleverly thought out, this retrospective exhibition really underlines the profound contribution Jankowski has made to new media today.
By Mark Langshaw