How We Move

A Moving Image Program

Salt Beyoğlu

September 13 – December 31, 2011


Organized by Guest Researcher Nathan Lee

How We Move December Program
How We Move November Program
How We Move October Program
How We Move September Program

What is an institution? We often speak of the institution as a physical place, such as the museum, university, or hospital. In another sense, the word designates different types of organizations, varying in scale and degree of centralization: the military, the media. Law is an institution, as is language, cinema, psychoanalysis. An institution can be founded as a conscious act (the Latin word institutus means “to set up”) or evolve as a spontaneous growth – sometimes healthy, sometimes cancerous. Institutions are shelters and battlegrounds, engines of progress and strongholds of orthodoxy, zones of production and objects of critique.

However concrete or abstract, the idea of the institution is a means to circumscribe the forces that shape and order society. As such, they have been a central preoccupation of the arts, and of special concern to the practices of modernity. From the advent, in 19th century Paris, of the Salon des Refusés, a counter-institution established in reaction to the inertia of the official art academy, to the emergence in the 1960’s of a group of artists whose interrogation of the structures and ideologies of the art world came to be labeled “Institutional Critique,” the questions – and problems – of institutions have been central to western avant-gardes.

More recently, as the production of contemporary art increasingly merges with (or becomes indistinguishable from) modes of education, research, and discourse production in the context of a globalized information economy, new conversations on “institutionality” have addressed the evolving nature of the production, exhibition, and reception of art.

On the occasion of the establishment of a new institution – SALT – this program of moving image works surveys a number of projects and practices that speak to questions of the institution – how it works (or doesn’t), what it produces (or inhibits), where it is housed, who it serves, what kinds of energies sustain it and which forms of power it exercises. Given that the thematic exhibition or program is an institution in itself – and a frequently dysfunctional one – How We Move further reflects on some of its own material and methodological procedures.

Empire, a video installation by Paul Pfeiffer, directly engages the architecture of SALT while presenting an alternative paradigm of institution building. A digital image recorded directly to, and projected from, a hard drive, Empire displays the three-month life cycle of a wasps’ nest in real time. The work’s title gestures to another Empire, Andy Warhol’s infamous 8-hour real time film of the Empire State building, while positing an inverse civilization: organic vs. technological, digital vs. analogue, matriarchal vs. patriarchal.

Institutions are only as good as the alternatives they inspire. Museum Futures: Distributed by Neil Cummings/Marysia Lewandowska deploys science fiction tropes to speculate on the destiny of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. In a more dystopian vein, David Cronenberg’s early avant-garde features Stereo and Crimes of the Future examine bizarre psychosexual scenarios at hypothetical clinics. Jennie Livingston’s classic documentary Paris Is Burning offers an equally flamboyant vision of alternative society – the performative “ball” culture of 1990’s queer New York – albeit one whose stakes are grounded in real world sexual and cultural politics.

The institutional formation of publics and counter publics depends on the dissemination (or suppression) of information. Several works on the program examine the role of broadcast in a highly mediated society. For his series of TV Commercials, Chris Burden purchased advertising time on television to stage wry interventions on broadcast norms. Villa Watch, by Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Judith Hopf, casts a sardonic eye on the media reaction to a paradoxical event: the inability (or refusal?) of an audience to leave the site of a lecture. In his video essay War at a Distance, Harun Farocki examines the interface of spectatorship, technology, playback and power in an era of computer-guided weaponry.

In Workers Leaving the Factory, Farocki meditates on the representation of labor by tracing a specific kind of footage through newsreels, archival footage, and films by the Lumière brothers, Chaplin and Pasolini among other sources. 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris offers one of the most beautiful and mysterious contemporary portraits of artistic production. Set within the elegant and hermetic atelier of Yves Saint Laurent, David Teboul’s meticulously observant documentary follows the creation and production of the legendary courtier’s final prêt-a-porter collection. Fikret Atay’s Theorists documents another kind of institutional production, the physical and discursive rituals of religious training, while legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman trains his eye on an American pedagogical institution in High School and High School II.

And the museum? Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark), Antek Walczak (Risques du Métier), Ali Kazma (Making Istanbul Modern) and Gordon Matta-Clark (Conical Intersect) examine the architecture, production, and identity of the dominant institution of art. The curators, critics, and artists assembled in Hila Peleg’s A Crime Against Art appropriate the form of a civil institution – the public trial – as a means to reflect on their practices.

All works presented in How We Move, including those originally produced on 35mm or 16mm film, will be projected on video – a concession to the ubiquitous digitization of moving image culture and the economics of contemporary display. Set during the final screening at a dilapidated Taipei cinema and profoundly keyed to the rhythms of 35mm projection, Tsai Ming-liang’s exquisitely material Goodbye Dragon Inn undergoes a radical transformation when projected on video. What are the thematic, affective, and social implications of migrating such a work to a different platform? This is a question to be asked of, and tested by, the institution.

Nathan Lee is a critic and curator based in New York. A former film critic for the New York Times and Village Voice, he is contributing editor of Film Comment. His recent curatorial projects include CLAP (New York); Break My Body, Hold My Bones (New York); and The Bit Plane Will Not Appear on Radar (İstanbul). He is a 2011-2012 Curatorial Fellow at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in New York.