More from American Idyll

August 30, 2008

Besides Walt’s, the karaoke bar, American Idyll features many fine works.  Some, like the rebuilt Korean karaoke room and the motorcycle race game, won by the loudest screamer, would fit in at an amusement park.  Just clever, they at least add to the carnival feel.

So does the installation.  The show’s better installed than any other I’ve seen at CAC. Many individual works, like Walt’s, boast elaborate setups, but the main room has works almost stacked on one another. Projected next to a balcony, at top is a fine documentary video by Mark Harris, sponsored by the Long March Project.  He has covered the same ground before, only here with more skill.  He tapes Chinese musicians of all stripes singing, in their own styles, Mao’s poetry, for a curious, gently ironic brush with the recent past.

Beneath it, a work I can’t judge for not reading music, a projection of a one-man power trio on pasteboard instruments, and an LCD panel of an artist playing a girl’s leg like a guitar.  It tickles; she’s kicking.  Gender roles and pop culture, sure, but mostly it’s funny.  All the competing exhibits make for a circus cacophony.  It’s fitting, given the source material.

My choice for best in show, Candace Breitz‘s 2000 work Killing Me Softly, transcends cacophony.  Somehow, it recalls the only work of art I’ve ever seen bring several adults to weep openly, Janet Cardiff’s 40 Part Motet, showing at MoMA in 2006.  That work featured a speaker for each of 40 vocalists performing Thomas Tallis’ 1573 work “Spem in Alium.”  Arranged in a circle, you could listen in the center or visit each speaker.  Doing so was intimate, a direct link to another’s voice.  Its power didn’t come just from the source music, but from wandering in it.

Likewise, Killing Me Softly arranges about ten televisions in a circle, head-height, each with someone singing the titular song.  Nothing’s synched, so they wail and howl like a Charles Ives crescendo, unless you go close enough to listen to each one.  Then it’s almost private.  They’re all non-native speakers of English, so the work’s on about performing identities, I suppose, but mostly it’s this glorious howl.  No one wept, though I couldn’t hear the couple who walked in and right back out.  I was too busy cackling with approval.

(Breitz has a video sample & installation photos under “Video– Karaoke” on her site.)

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