Hirshhorn Announces Upcoming Exhibitions in the Museum’s Black Box Space for New Media

September 8, 2008
News Release
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The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden announces upcoming exhibitions in the museum’s Black Box space. Since 2005, as part of its commitment to the creative possibilities of new media, the Hirshhorn’s Black Box has presented the work of a diverse range of emerging and established international artists. Organized by associate curator Kelly Gordon, the artists featured in upcoming solo shows are Semiconductor (Aug. 25-Dec. 14, 2008), Ori Gersht (Dec. 22, 2008-Apr. 12, 2009) and Guido van der Werve (Apr. 20-Aug. 9, 2009). Works by each of these artists have recently been acquired by the museum. Support for the Black Box program is provided in part by Lawrence A. Cohen/Ringler Associates.

Black Box: Semiconductor on View from Aug. 25-Dec. 14
Ruth Jarman (b. 1973, Fareham, England) and Joseph Gerhardt (b. 1972, Oxford, England), aka Semiconductor, have collaborated since 1999 on what they call various forms of “digital noise and computer anarchy,” including films, experimental DVDs and multimedia performances. The U.K.-based pair makes moving-image works that focus on the nature of flux on earth and beyond, including cities in motion, shifting landscapes and systems in chaos.

“Magnetic Movie” (2007), a recent acquisition, is an eye-dazzling short in the guise of a documentary created during the artists’ 2005 residency at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley. As scientists’ voice-overs describe their discoveries, it is unclear whether the viewer is observing actual experiments or something utterly imaginary. The “invisible” activity of magnetic fields is shown as a rampage of chain reactions that overtake the space of the laboratory, implying that these activities are also occurring around viewers as they watch the film unfold. “Magnetic Movie”was awarded Best Experimental Film at Cutting Edge at the 2008 British Animation Awards, Best Experimental Film at the 2007 Tirana International Film Festival and was featured at the 2008 Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Black Box: Ori Gersht on View from Dec. 22, 2008-Apr. 12, 2009
Ori Gersht (b. 1967, Tel Aviv) currently lives and works in London. He is noted for his series of large-scale photographs and arresting moving-image pieces. The artist’s work encourages viewers to reflect on the power of natural beauty and how it is affected by human intervention. In “The Forest” (2006) the camera pans a lush, primeval forest. Sound alternates with silence and suddenly a tree falls to the ground with a thunderous echo. The departure point for this work seems to be the conundrum “if a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” But other questions emerge: Who or what is causing these trees to fall? Is this a statement about nature and inevitability, about proverbially missing the forest for the trees, a commentary about deforestation or a metaphor for loss? Or is it perhaps an exercise in anticipation? “The Forest” is soothing but also becomes increasingly mysterious. Shot deep in the Moskalovka woods that span Poland and the Ukraine, this site has personal meaning for the artist. It was from the edge of this glen that his in-laws witnessed the execution of their fellow villagers before escaping into the forest, where they hid from the Nazis for two years.

The exhibition also includes two flat-screen works: “Pomegranate” (2006), installed next to the entrance to the Black Box on the lower level, and “Big Bang II” (2006), a recent acquisition on view on the third floor. These works reference traditional Spanish and Dutch still-life painting in which precise arrangements of foods, fruit or flowers are shown at their peak, implying the inevitability of decay. These metaphors for the brevity of life are termed “vanitas.” Gersht fast-forwards the impending threat of demise. His imagery does not decay by dissolving over time; it combusts and then, in the type of slow motion used to depict extreme violence in feature films, recalls the time-lapse imagery of Harold Edgerton’s scientific action photography. Gersht updates the concept of vanitas by creating meditations on how violence in contemporary life is often random, anonymous and unpredictable. Triggering a visceral response, these films translate the experiences of the artist’s fear-filled childhood in Israel into provocative statements that have global resonance.

Black Box: Guido van der Werve on View from Apr. 20-Aug. 9, 2009 (dates subject to change)
Guido van der Werve’s (b. 1977, Papendrecht, Netherlands) work is performance art produced for film. The artist, who also is a classical pianist, composer and chess master, has earned an international reputation for his 10 short videos, made between 2003 and 2007. In each, he appears as a modern-day everyman in wistful situations that recall the spirit of 19th-century Romanticism. He plays a piano on a float in the middle of a lake, launches a meteor back to where it came from, herds ballerinas on the street, walks on ice in front of a giant shipping icebreaker and ventures to the North Pole.

The Hirshhorn has recently acquired “Nummer Negen (#9) the day I didn’t turn with the world” (2007). For this work, van der Werve undertook a special regimen of diet and exercise to prepare to stand on the North Pole for 24 hours. He turns clockwise, in opposition to the earth’s rotation, while being photographed every six seconds. Over 14,000 stills comprise this stop-motion animation, scored with piano music written and performed by the artist. He is silhouetted against the empty, endless landscape atop the world, alone and imperiled. The fast-forward speed and time-lapse editing make his stilted dance appear to be at once torturous, hilarious, ridiculous and even sublime. This work complements the museum’s holdings of performative videos, such as those by Ana Mendieta and John Baldessari. Van der Werve’s sparse story lines are often staged in grandiose settings or extreme situations and are imbued with his unique, tragic/comic poetic melancholy. A selection of his works will be presented in the Black Box.

Related Programming
Associate curator Kelly Gordon will discuss the Black Box on Oct. 17 at 12:30 p.m. as part of the free Friday Gallery Talks series. Meet the Artist: Semiconductor on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. is a free lecture and screening of their work. “Magnetic Movie” can also be seen during After Hours, Nov. 7, when the museum has extended hours and special performances. The Hirshhorn’s Web site features a transcribed interview between Semiconductor and Gordon. For further background on artists and exhibitions, consult the museum’s Web site for podcasts.

About the Hirshhorn
The Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden welcomes visitors at all levels of understanding to experience the transformative power of contemporary art. The museum collects, preserves and presents international modern and contemporary art in all media. By collaborating with artists on exhibitions, programs and special projects, the Hirshhorn provides an important national platform in Washington, D.C., for the vision and voices of artists. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25); Independence Avenue at Seventh Street S.W.; admission is free.

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