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Feb 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Reenactment: Hybrid Forms of Documentary

With Brody Condon, Peggy Ahwesh and Melissa Ragona.

“The American Imagination demands the real thing, and to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.”–Umberto Eco

The term, “reenactment,” brings up many past and present projects in contemporary art and film: Fresh Acconci (1995) by  Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave (2001), Allison Smith’s The Muster (2005), Seven Easy Pieces (2005) by Marina Abramovic and the work of Omer Fast from Spielberg’s List (2003) to Godville (2005) to The Casting (2007) to 5,000 Feet is Best (2011) to his most recent, Everything That Rises Must Converge (2013). Currently, Stan Douglas’s Luanda-Kinshasa (2014) [at David Zwirner], a six-hour video projection that reconstructs both the feel and the groove of recordings that occurred at Columbia Records on 30th street in New York —urges us to remember, indeed relive the work of Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Billie Holiday and others who recorded there.  The latter is a kind of synthesized gesamtkunstwerk that seems to effortlessly riff across jazz, blues, and improvised rock delivering a kind of mnemonic Rorschach of sixties coolness. Where bell-bottoms, linen shirts, tweed belts and bandana-styled fros attempt to resurrect period and style in Douglas’s recent work, algorithmic aesthetics, LARP, and hypnosis are the tools that drive Brady Condon and Peggy Ahwesh’s work in this program. Neither would, perhaps, use the term “reenactment” as a way of describing what they are attempting to address in their work. As Johanna Drucker has argued, “the ‘real’ and the ‘symbolic’ are both so traumatically disjunctive that no act of making strange can make them stranger.”

After  Death Animations (2007), Condon has almost exclusively claimed to use performance models that come out of a combination of Nordic models of LARP or Live Action Role Playing Games with 1970s durational, rule-based performances by Allan Kaprow, Trisha Brown, and Yvonne Rainer. But, it isn’t accidental that Condon, coming out of an interest in role-playing (he was a Dungeon master throughout his youth), animation and gaming would be drawn to performance figures that often integrated film, like Yvonne Rainer did with the films of Hollis Frampton in Carriage Discreteness (1966)— and or her own parallel practices in performance and film: Volleyball (aka Foot Film, 1967) or Hand Movie (1968). The apparatus of film, like the apparatus of performance could deliver new sets of epistemologies about consciousness (indeed, the hope was that, like psychedelic drugs, it could possibly expand consciousness). Moreover, an aesthetics of emergence informed both worlds—watching and waiting to see how the algorithms of technology, as well as rule-based social situations would play themselves out. In Condon’s Level5, we see a wonderfully troubled, confusing merging of the algorithms of game space—metaphorically situated, but also fully lived through the rules established by LARPers directing and participating in transactional roles—with the repetitions of and compulsions of psychoanalytic transfers, constantly threatening to blow closed the supposed rule-based role playing, or the “designated zones” of gaming or “relating.”

Condon often designs performances that utilize live action role-playing techniques whereby he creates and populates temporary worlds, then records on video these unscripted and often disorienting interactions, documenting them in an ethnographic style. He will create a “mix tape” for the event that will be composed of the works below in varying durations.

Ahwesh’s projects are also more about transmission than theatrical reenactment. Actors in Ahwesh’s films are encouraged to “be themselves” but often under unusual circumstances. Thus, the results are performances that threaten to interpolate the viewer into uncanny worlds where fiction and documentary collide. The volatility of Klaus Kinski (in Herzog’s My Best Friend, and Aguirre: Wrath of God) is matched in Ahwesh’s films by the unpredictable behavior of actors like Jennifer Montgomery (Martina’s Playhouse), Jackie Smith (The Star Eaters, The Ape of Nature), and Deirdre Lewis (Strange Weather). Ahwesh brings us into the darkest corners of an actor’s psychological wasteland — where they can feel their most capable ambitions turn on them like reflexive heads, cannibalizing themselves in front of the camera. This is the romantic space, if there is one in Ahwesh’s work — that hypnotic state where fear and pleasure mingle, where ambition and failure wrestle, where the body and its ghost consume each other. It’s a place of memory and of forgetting —where perhaps only a cinematic map of objects will help the actor find his or her way out of their own psychic labyrinth. —Melissa Ragona


Death Animations by Brody Condon

2 min., 2007-2008

Nine dancers outfitted in fantasy armour recreated movements based on computer game death animations in slow motion. The performers were simultaneously blasted with high volume binaural beats reputed to induce out of body experiences. Costumes: Lauren Tafuri; Make-up: Lise Leininger; Camera: Dan Marinico; PA: Michele Yu; Dancers: Alexia Lewis, Aimee Zannoni, Nicholas Bruder, Susan Huckle, Hugo Armstrong, Adam Overton, Steve Irvin, Sarah Anderson, Mark Herbst.

Without Sun by Brody Condon

28 min., 2008

Named after the classic Chris Marker video Sans Soleil, Condon’s Without Sun is an edited compilation of “found performances” of individuals on a psychedelic substance. Images and sounds from the various clips collected from the internet overlap and combine into one seamless experience, creating a 15 minute pseudo-narrative focused on the exterior surface of their “projection of self” into visionary worlds. Condon’s global players in Without Sun have recorded themselves looking at the camera this time. Taking up where Marker left off, these (inner) travelogues question memory, perception, and the effects of current participatory media and technology on culture. Condon also “recreated” these experiences live in a gallery space (clips of both videos will be screened).

Level Five by Brody Condon

16 min., 2010-2011

Level Five  was a series of participatory performances focused on critically exploring self actualization seminars from the 1970’s such as Large Group Awareness Training sessions like Erhard Seminars Training. LevelFive was not a actual self-actualization seminar, nor is it affiliated with any actual Large Group Awareness Training company or group. Players arrived as their characters, and were expected to emote and experience as their characters, with minimal interruption, for the 2- day duration of the game. Only participants were allowed in the performance space itself, while the footage from 3 cameras recording the event were mixed live and analog streamed for the public to the nearby theater during scheduled hours of the event.

To Prove Her Zeal by Brody Condon

(only excerpts from a longer work, documenting an installation and collaborative performance workshop)

“To prove her zeal” was a five-day communal situation with eight players, located inside a seven-story mill tower and nearby farm in the small town of Wassaic, New York. Anachronistically imagining themselves inhabiting a setting part late 1800’s unorthodox monastic commune, part 1980’s new age retreat, and part extra-terrestrial biosphere, the characters engaged in daily farm chores and group encounter sessions. As the players developed their characters, these emotionally intense sessions focused on their interpersonal relationships were led by an elusive artificial intelligence embodied by an abstract sculpture, which the artist inserted into the performance as non-human character.

Future Gestalt by Brody Condon

4 min., 2012

Future Gestalt is part sci-fi film, part participatory performance, and part experiential essay on the history of psychotherapeutic group encounters. Set in a now antiquated vision of the far future, five trained performers robed in vivid, diaphanous costume are led by the artist in a series of closed-ended performative psychotherapy techniques, such as Gestalt group therapy, developed most famously by Fritz Perls in the 1940s. Tony Smith’s ‘shape shifting’ sculpture Smoke (1967), permanently installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, acts as the elaborate set, and carnivorous potted plants as exotic props.

Ape of Nature by Peggy Ahwesh

24 min., 2010

Peggy Ahwesh’s installation project, The Ape of Nature takes its inspiration from Werner Herzog’s Heart of Glass (1976) — a feature length film set in an 18th century Bavarian town with a glass blowing factory that produces a special line of ruby glass (its production is halted when the master glass blower dies, carrying the secret recipe of ruby glassmaking with him, and chaos ensues in the town). Herzog hypnotized almost the entire cast in order to achieve a displaced, supernatural-like tension throughout the film. Ahwesh, borrowing the trope of hypnosis, transforms Herzog’s macabre folktale into a contemporary treatise on the malaise of American post-industrial cultures (disappearing jobs, loss of handicrafts, fracturing of communities). She doesn’t deliver this as an ethnographic essay, but rather as the recalling of a troubled dream — with large pieces of the story missing or unresolved conflicts repeating themselves like an addiction, or shards of objects flickering on the edge of memory. —Melissa Ragona from Drugged Romanticism: Peggy Ahwesh’s The Ape of Nature (2009), catalogue essay from The Metropolis Between Your Ears, James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center, New York

Bethlehem by Peggy Ahwesh

8 min., 2009

Interior and exterior spaces are transformed into mystical places in Peggy Ahwesh’s lyrical meditation of an experimental short film, Bethlehem. While the film is mostly about general states of being, she does manage to tie in two actual Bethlehems: The most famous one in Jerusalem and the other one in mid-east Pennsylvania, which is Ahwesh’s home state. Many shots, particularly of Ahwesh’s human subjects, are from below or in intense close-up, granting them an element of grandeur even though they are occupying fairly mundane spaces.  — Mike Everleth, Underground Film Journal 

Strange Weather by Peggy Ahwesh

50 min., 1993

Made in collaboration with Margie Stosser, Strange Weather is a fascinating and unnerving view of drug addiction that fundamentally questions truth and representation. “Documenting” a group of crack addicts (actors) at home in Florida, Ahwesh’s gritty PixelVision camera work delivers an intimate and unnerving view of addiction and intoxication that troubles the conventional separation between documentary and fiction.

132 min

The interdisciplinary artist Brody Condon’s recent work is focused on the creation and documentation of performative group encounters. Enamored with collective dysfunction, it explores live role-playing, group psychotherapy, and the obsession with fantasy in contemporary culture. He has recently exhibited at On Stellar Rays, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, LACMA, PS1 MoMA, and Hammer Museum. His awards include the Creative Capital Grant and the Franklin Furnace Grant. Condon has recently been published in ARTnews, The New York Times, Art in America, Beautiful Decay, and Modern Painters. He has participated in recent lectures at Carnegie Mellon University, Art Center College of Design, Glasgow School of Art, and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

Peggy Ahwesh is an artist who works in the fields of experimental film and video. Using a range of approaches, her work elaborates on the aesthetics of 1960s and ’70s American avant-garde film with an investigation of cultural identity and modes of subjectivity in the present. Her work has been shown widely, including at the Filmmuseum, Frankfurt, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Museu d’Art Contemporani Barcelona (MACBA), the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among other venues. She is Professor of Film and Electronic Arts at Bard College.

Melissa Ragona’s essays and reviews have appeared in October, Frieze, Art Papers and in the edited collections Lowering the Boom: Critical Studies in Film Sound, eds. J. Beck and T. Grajeda (U of Illinois Press, 2008), Women’s Experimental Cinema, ed. Robin Blaetz (Duke University Press, 2007), Andy Warhol Live (Prestel, 2008), and The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image (2013),  among others. Her book on Andy Warhol’s tape recordings, Readymade Sound: Andy Warhol’s Recording Aesthetics is forthcoming from University of California Press, Berkeley. She is an Associate Professor of Critical Theory and Art History in the School of Art at Carnegie-Mellon University and an adviser for UnionDocs.


Feb 8, 2014
7:30 pm – 10:00 pm


352 Onderdonk Avenue
Ridgewood, NY 11385 United States
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