Christian Jankowski: Swiss Institute. (New York).
More typically, however, Jankowski's transformations traffic in sly humor rather than angst. All three performative videos on view in the artist's New York solo debut handle weighty issues with a light touch. My Life as a Dove, a series of photographs and a grainy video projection documenting a 1996 project, is the earliest piece here. Jankowski hired a magician to "transform" him into a bird, which remained in a cage in the gallery for the duration of the exhibition. For three weeks, the "artist" was fed and photographed by gallery visitors; he was restored to his usual form in a ceremony at the show's close. Though gimmicky in an art-school kind of way, My Life as a Dove neatly embodies the kind of alchemical transformations that are central to Jankowski's production. By turning artist into animal, no matter how illusion-lessly, Jankowski reformulates classic modernist questions concerning the nature of all artistic production.
The Matrix Effect, 2000, another video projection accompanied by photographs, poses these aesthetic and ontological questions even more pointedly. Extending the role-play that characterized Let's Get Physical/Digital, Jankowski here cast children as art-world heavyweights and had them act out a series of interviews (based on a program of talks at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, Connecticut) and sit for photographs. Seeing seven-year-old incamations of Adrian Piper and Sol LeWitt blow air kisses and discuss institutional critique is simultaneously hilarious and disconcerting. Not only does The Matrix Effect throw into relief the sometime self-importance and cliquishness of the art world, it raises serious questions about contemporary art's meaning and audience. Indeed, the disconnect between the speakers and their words highlights the inaccessibility--and perhaps the facileness--of much art today. The Matrix Effect deliberately leaves unresolved whether the art discussed is entirely above these children's heads or is itself childishly simple. The implications of either option are also coyly reserved.
Jankowski's peculiar brew of irony, transformation, and role-play finds its most nuanced balance in Singing Customs Officers, 1999. Here the artist enlisted border guards from Austria, France, Italy, and Germany to sing their respective national anthems for the camera. The officers obliged--then declared the video footage art and collected the appropriate duties (the customs receipts are also on view). Not only does the piece underscore the performative actions whereby an individual can be transformed (here, from officer to artist), it pinpoints that elusive moment when a simple videotape turns into art. Jankowski's work consistently occupies this liminal space and revels in the instability of meaning there. By posing tough questions about art and it potential, Jankowski asks his viewers to draw their own conclusions, inviting them to find their own poetic transformation.
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|Date:||Feb 1, 2002|
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