Hirshhorn Museum

Hollywood has long been a land of fakeness. Its images of the unreal are projected nightly across the nation and world in movie theaters and televisions. Perhaps it is this escape from reality that draws people in.  Some of the most decadent periods of cinema occurred when this nation itself was experiencing the worst economic depression in modern history.  Celebrities are created from people not being themselves, not projecting their own reality, but by assuming a role, becoming someone-something else.
The Cinema Effect: Realisms exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum explores the relationship between viewer and video, between artist and art, and perceived reality and projected reality.  Through short films, visual productions and images, the international artists force the viewer to not only question the reality of what they are watching, but also their own reality.
In stark opposition to the sun-drenched lobby and courtyard of the circular Hirshhorn, the Cinema Effect exhibit immediately draws the viewer in a world of darkness lit only through the ambient light thrown from the monitors and projection screens. In this muted existence, the viewer loses sense of himself.  The reality of his attire is lost to the solemn empty voids of the gallery.  Quite easily does the viewer lose track of his location within the museum, and even more easily does the want to know where he is fade away.
Film, whether in an art gallery, on television, or in a theater is able to temporarily transport the viewer out of his world and bring him to a different time, place, and land.  In the near silence of an art gallery, this transport produces an eerie realization that one is lost and at the will of the cinematographer. The viewer is tethered to the whims and direction of the artist with little opportunity to escape.
This realization is akin to the culture shock one feels when entering a new land. It is the knowing and dealing with the fact that one is not at home.  The images one sees are not his own. Very little belongs to him. In a sense, his reality has been taken hostage by a new culture, a new environment, a new scene, a new script.
The piece New York, New York, New York, New York, by Mungo Thompson, questions this idea of being away from home and the usual. Images of New York are projected on four walls, effectively bringing us from the National Mall in Washington, DC to the gritty pavement, cement, and buildings of New York. Our Metro is replaced by the subway; our tree lined capitol boulevards are replaced by seemingly endless, tree-less, litter filled streets.  Mimicking our natural tendency to look up at the stories seemingly perched one upon the other, the camera too, tilts up towards the roofs.
In the split second before the next segment, we second-guess ourselves with the actual lack of roofs. Through the upper level windows, instead of a ceiling or roof, we see but clear blue sky.  Instead of the expected bus or taxi, we follow a golf cart turn the corner and disappear down a street.
Slowly, through the examination of details – aided by close-ups of fake fruit, and even a palm tree in the background – we become aware that perhaps, this “real” depiction of New York City, is hardly real at all.
This famed East Coast metropolis has been recreated in the always-sunny West Coast Hollywood. We as viewers, having already been transported and given reason to question out location and reality are suddenly forced again to be moved to this land of fakeness which our own reality has tried to hard to escape.  Even though, but for an instant, this fake reality did transport us, the building facades represent the complete exterior of Hollywood which serve to do nothing but hide the empty, roofless interiors.
The disappointment caused by the constantly shifting and unknown reality surprisingly draws a continuous audience of followers, both artists and viewers alike.  We are drawn to celebrities and fame like moths to light.  We lose sense of reality when projected upon us is the make-up, lights and editing of Hollywood.
As a video artist, Kerry Tribe went to Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, in search of her next project, her next opportunity to reflect and represent reality to the world.  What she found was not a real existence. She found a continual struggle in the people of Hollywood to become something they are not.  Before being viewed by the public, the actors are nothing but objects being judged on their beauty and their look.
In creating her piece, Tribe found five actresses that looked like herself, and cast them to represent her thoughts and emotions.  She is able to blatantly respond to the question of whether creating art – and specifically film – is creating an image, an introspective of oneself.  Her piece, is her. She is the subject of the film, the actresses in the film are playing her.  Her own unique sense of identity is multiplied and we become unable to pinpoint what about Tribe makes her herself.   Can a real subject be achieved by recreating many copies of the original?
The subtle repetitive music reflects the sense of doubling of human thoughts Tribe has afforded us.  Tribe alternates between interview documentary segments and everyday life settings to further enmesh the actors with their subject. The subject portrayed in the interior frame of the rear-view mirror is still the actor playing the subject during the interview.   It becomes impossible to distinguish actor from subject as this Hollywood reality is muddied to the rhythmic beating of the background music.  Even as the melodic pattering rises at the end of the film suggesting a positive future different from the intertwined past, we are left wondering if we can indeed escape a created reality to find our own.
I guess that is what I was left with after these two pieces. Witnessing the scenery of Hollywood and the continually questioning reality of Hollywood acting, I was left wondering if I could indeed escape this created reality.  I found myself questioning still what is real about this reality, what makes it more real than any other.   Is realism and reality a constant? Or does the observer give the reality legitimacy?
One of Tribe’s actresses portraying Tribe describes Hollywood as a consuming collective and magnetic bubble of people. In a way this makes realism unify. It is only through coming together and sharing experiences, through art, music, stories or film, that our realities can align, and we can see the world as others do.  The Cinema Effect exhibit challenges the viewer to choose a reality as his own, and interpret what he sees through that reality. What is real is only real to those who see it, and it is the filmmaker’s job to record those realisms for others to enjoy.

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