First Friday Rewind: Fabric Workshop

30 minutes before Chinatown’s Fabric Workshop and Museum opened its doors to their March first Friday crowd, guest curator John G. Hanhardt addressed the museums members. “The history of 20th century art is going to be rewritten through the moving image,” says Hanhardt, the statement is prefaced with a minor forewarning––he has said this before. But as one surveys the institution, from the awing crowd to the modern masterpieces featured in the exhibition, it’s evident that these are not rehearsed words, instead they are the living testimony of an accomplished curator.

The exhibition is called Changing Scenes: Points of View in Contemporary Media Art and spans over several gallery floors, and two exhibiting spaces, at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum. The pieces in the exhibition are composed of three instillations, two videotapes, and screening room in FMW’s neighboring facility, The New Temporary Contemporary, that showcases six-channel videotapes, each of which harp on a critical theme––identity.

When you first enter the building you find yourself interrupting a silent exchange between two female figures. In the museums video lounge, two projections, one by VALIE EXPORT and the other by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, dominate the lounge’s paralleling walls. VALIE EXPORT’s piece, Visual Text: Finger Poem (1968-1973), translates a text of Martin Heidegger’s into sign language using the camera as a mode of communicating both language and ideas. Directly across from the piece, investigating representation, Cha’s Permutatuions (1976), jumps between shuddering portraits of the artists’ sister with a sudden appearance of Cha herself.

Directly between the two film projections, behind glass doors in the first floor galley is Adrian Piper’s Out of the Corner (1990). The instillation’s 17 monitors, 16 pedestals, and 23 chairs, don’t distract from Piper’s hard-hitting questions about race. A collected, yet aggressive voice comes from one of the monitors. A poised African American woman fearlessly addresses racism and tells a presumably white audience that they are in fact not made up of the genetic material they thought they were.

From the museums first floor, it’s clear what Hanhardt’s intentions are, “I wanted to deal with this issue of how artists see the world around them, explains Hanhardt, “how they reflect themselves, identity, perception, and representation, those are important issues to art, and they are very important to how artists are working with media.” Whether that camera is Sadie Benning’s Fisher-Price Pixelvision or a high-definition camera, each work extends the point of view of the artist behind it, and conceptualizes and questions essential facets of the human experience.

However, Changing Scenes isn’t limited to a single theme or commentary, the exhibition demonstrates the history and evolution of a once “new media.” The collection pulls from the history of film, video, and instillation art, showcasing a virtual timeline of influential artists in the field, from the genesis of the mediums popularity to today when it’s considered a mainstay of the contemporary art gallery and museum.

Hanhardt, himself may be accredited as one of the individuals responsible for the distribution of the medium through his many professional accomplishments. Hanhardt has spent a long career representing film, video, and instillation practices and artists. He has worked as the Curator and Head of the Film and Video Department at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts at the Guggenheim Museum, and since 2006, he has held the title of Counseling Senior Curator for Film and Media Arts at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In the past, he’s established a film program and film study collection at the Walker Art Center, and expanded the Whitney’s art collection to include video installation art.

Other artists in the exhibition include, Ayoka Chenzira, Tony Cokes and Donald Trammel, Alexander Kluge, Nam June Paik with Charlotte Moorman, Jason Simon, and Javier Telléz. Changing Scenes: Points of View in Contemporary Media Art, is on view through the summer 2013.