Media Shelf #1 – Rachel Stevens

Media Shelf #1 – Rachel Stevens

The first installment of the IMA-MFA Media Shelf was curated by Rachel Stevens. What ties these selections together is that they each systematically interrogate a layer or convention of media representation. Through a formal operation, they speak to a socio-political condition.

(in alphabetical order)

The Anatomy of Melancholy, Brian Frye,1999, 16mm, 11 mins
Fragments from a 1960s black and white film called “A Portrait of Fear” show amateur actors clustered together in the dark and illuminated by a bright light. They read stilted lines in turn that suggest a kind of uncanny tragedy off-screen. Brian bought the reel of outtakes strung together just as they appear. This strange experimental film seems to lay bare the mechanisms of acting, dialog and the process of constructing a plausible narrative through a collection of shots and takes.

Anatomy of Melancholy

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, Andrei Ujică, 2010
The story of the long rule of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu is told solely through media from the Romanian National Archive. Without voice-over, contextualizing information or editorializing beyond editing choices and some very subtle sound design, the fascinating story of this delusional and grandiose figure holds the attention of the viewer for three hours. For the uninitiated, the absence of framing allows for rapt attention to the material, while Romanians in the audience sing along with the national anthem. A particularly memorable bit is the choreographed welcome spectacle orchestrated for Ceacescu in North Korea.

Autobiography of Nicolae_2

CITIZENFOUR, Laura Poitras, 2014
In addition to being a remarkable portrait of Edward Snowden, championing the roles of the whistleblower and the investigative journalist, reminding us of civil liberties and engrossing us like a spy thriller, CITIZENFOUR does a great job of explaining the layer of representation that is possibly most critical to our everyday experience: metadata. The trail of data we leave behind through phone calls, credit card swipes, internet searches, email, online purchases, etc. is collected wholesale by agencies and, when cross-referenced, creates a circumstantial portrait of our every move.


Parallel I – IV, Harun Farocki, 2014 (Just closed at Greene Naftali gallery)
Four 2-channel videos examining the development of representation in computer animated games, from 8-bit water to photo-realistic worlds with their own internal logic of motion and choice.

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Provenance, Amie Siegel, 2014 (currently on view a the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
This exquisitely shot and edited film traces – in reverse – the journey of a chair from the utopian modernist city of Chandigarh, India, designed by Le Corbusier, to the highly designed homes of the wealthy. The chair appears in homes, at auction, in transit via shipping container, in a restorers shop and finally in the worn spaces of the buildings they were designed for, surrounded by piles of paper, or piled themselves in a state of disuse. More seductive in its extremely crafted formalism (slow tracking shots, perfectly composed) than critical, the film demonstrates operations of capitalism with the intention of being institutional and commodity critique.


SOD, JODI, 1999
Game mods of Wolfenstein 3D. Representational graphics are replaced with geometric shapes in black, white and gray, for a very disorienting playing experience.



Screenshots + info here:



Tango, Zbigniew Rybczinkski, 35mm film, 8 min. 1980
An animated live action film showing 36 different people, each performing a looped action in the same room of an Eastern Bloc-style apartment. It took 16,000 cell-mattes, over seven months and several hundred thousand exposures on an optical printer to make.



Through a Lens Darkly, Thomas Allen Harris, 2014
Inspired by the work of photo historian Deborah Willis, this film delves into the representation of African Americans through photography. It weaves together the personal and vernacular (the family album and family anecdotes) with studio portraiture, street photography, images of horrific violence and demeaning stereotypes circulating through early popular media, the photographic practice of contemporary artists and the testimony of photographers and theorists on their experiences regarding the viewing and circulation of images.

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