February 9, 2010
Everything the internet taught me about Omer Fast was simply not enough.
Stills from Bill Viola's video installation, THE CROSSING. In this piece, the viewer walks into a pitch-black high ceiling room with a towering screen hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. The viewer can walk around the screen to view either side, to see either the figure under a trickle of falling water that grows into a deluge, or the same figure as a flame grows into an inferno that engulfs him. By the end, both figures are entirely consumed, and the water and fire die down, leaving nothing.
For a while there I lived in San Francisco, getting my M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Whenever my brain got stuck or stumbling over useful writing material, I ventured out to a museum to absorb, inhabit, and react to various mediums of artwork. For the most part I divided my time between the SFMOMA and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, armed with a pocket moleskine and a pen, and during one of those forays I was sucker punched by more than 16 installations from video artist Bill Viola on display at the SFMOMA. I frequented the exhibit for several months and immersed myself in Viola's work for hours at a time.
SLOWLY TURNING NARRATIVE. A screen mounted on a floor-to-ceiling shaft rotates at the center of the room, as accompanied by a voice recites a long list of states of being and actions in a repetitive, rhythmic chant.
These barrels of water in THE SLEEPERS each have a black and white monitor floating a few inches below the surface, portraying faces of various sleeping individuals.
I am realizing that having easy access art museums was something I'd taken for granted. A single visit would keep me jazzed about writing and creating for weeks on end. But then I moved to a tiny mountain town, and the business of letterpress slowly ate away at my creative hours, and over time I sort of let that side of me go to waste. I would say its been at least five years since I've set foot in a museum that was worth a spit.
Pictured: (INDEX) FINGER 1997 by Tim Hawkinson. Though I am the poster child for gore-a-phobia, I sometimes torture myself by confronting that which makes me involuntarily coil in terror. Ten years ago, when I paid my first visit to the Whitney Museum in NYC, I latched on to this "sculpture" immediately because a) it filled me with horror, and b) I had already been traumatized by a photo of the same severed thumb in the CD Booklet from the Beck album, MUTATIONS. (Images of several sculptural works by Hawkinson filled the pages of the foldout booklet from MUTATIONS, all of which were in the Whitney collection.) The actual size of the severed fingertip can be imagined once you recognize the assortment of red pens and pencils meant to resemble "finger guts."
New York City has been a three times a year destination for the trade shows for a while now, but my trips have always been a rat race centered around the shows, leaving me little time to explore more than the nightlife. The last few times I've been to the city I've had an itch to revisit the Whitney, and this time around a small window of time opened up for me to pay a visit.
Enter Omer Fast
CNN Concentrated (2002) by Omer Fast. Aside from a discussion & some excerpts from what looks to be a very piece of fascinating work called "The Casting," there is virtually nothing else you will find video-wise from Omer Fast online or even on DVD.
Currently the Whitney is exhibiting Omer Fast's latest work, "Nostalgia," which is a seemingly harmless piece when you first approach it, the first screen you see is nothing more than a British gentleman in the woods, building a snare trap from two branches and some twine, voiced over by an African refugee interviewed by Fast, who describes how the trap is made.
A simple hunting trap made of two branches and some twine is a recurring them throughout "Nostalgia." This interviewed African refugee, who is seeking asylum in Britain, uses his fingers to demonstrate how the two bent twigs of the trap interlock as he describes how the trap is constructed.
You move into a dark room in which two screens play simultaneously, where two actors, each occupying a screen, recreate the interview between the refugee and Omer Fast. We learn that Fast is interviewing various African refugees about their experiences in order to make a film. The scripted interview takes some unexpected and uncomfortable turns, in which it is clear that the refugee may not be exactly who he says he is, and says some things that makes the portrayed Omer Fast both impatient and uncomfortable. Likewise the actor playing Fast is made to admit things that makes him squirm in his own seat, when the refugee starts interviewing him.
A production still from "Nostalgia." Imagine the image as I saw it: Fast moves the camera in tight focus from the top of this image down, slowly panning downward from the senselessly clubbed refugee to her vomit in the dirt, which continues to spill out towards us until the screen is filled by a bouquet of grapes and tropical flowers.
To be truthful, the first two segments I've described did not hold my complete attention, until I understood their purpose and their relation to the whole. However, the third segment of this installation, a large screen in a dark room, had me bolted to the floor. Fast takes the essence of the first two segments and flips it on his head with a 30 minute 70's sci-fi flick in which refugees flee a dystopian Europe, seeking asylum in a rich African nation with closed borders. The film is gripping, unraveling harsh realities in a new and weird light, with surreal and mind bending twists and movements that only a video artist has license to pull off.
A week has passed since I've seen "Nostalgia," and it is still flapping around in my head like a trapped bird. I've poured over the internet, wanting to find more from Omer Fast, but despite a decade of film making and international attention in the art world there is surprisingly little on the guy. This is coming at a time when I have been thinking about how valuable and powerful the internet can be as a marketing tool for anyone who is trying to push their work into the limelight. So here I shall put up about Omer Fast as I have been able to find.
Omer Fast, born in 1972, is an Israeli filmmaker who currently resides in Berlin. Much of his work focuses on resplicing and reordering stories and histories in order to create dissonant and altered realities, often using multiple screens in order to create both discord and harmony between images and sound.
Breaking in a New Partner 2000. In this comic piece that served as Fast's Graduate Project, two screens play simultaneously, one is a series of scenes from the movie Lethal Weapon that play silently, the other screen shows Fast himself, perfectly mimicking the scenes as both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, complete with sound effects of fist fights, police sirens, etc that he creates while being filmed.
Glendive Foley 2000. In this installation two televisions face each other, on one screen are images of Suburbia from Glendive, Montana, on the other screen Omar Fast is in recording studio voicing sound effects that go with the images of suburbia (wind, birds, lawnmower; he cracks a watermelon to make the sound effects of a fist fight. etc.)
CNN Concentrated 2002. (Featured above.)
Spielberg's List 2003. Fast interviews citizens of Cracow, Poland, who played as extras in Schindler's List about the holocaust as it was played out in Speilberg's film. Fast recuts the dialogue in order to blur lines between historical facts and their portrayal on the screen in Hollywood.
Godless 2005. Portrayed on two screens, Fast interchange the lives historical reenactors must portray in Colonial Williamsburg with their personal lives outside their jobs in such a way that the characters become detached from both the past and present.
The Casting 2007. American Soldier who fought in Iraq recounts in an interview two differents stories, one of a date he had with a woman in Germany, the other of an fatal roadside shooting in Iraq. Fast splices bits of both stories into one single story. Two screens show a re-enactment of the story, on the other sides of these screens you see the actual interview take place.
De Grote Boodschap 2007. Not 100% sure what this one is about other than: "the stories of paired Flemish characters who appear to be caught in a time-warp"
Take a Deep Breath 2008. About a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in which a medic tries to resuscitate a young man who has lost his limbs, after the young man dies, it is revealed that he is the bomber. However mid-resuscitation we see the film makers start yelling at the actor playing the bomber because he is not convincing enough. An extra from the film is made to take the actor's place, as more complications arise that keep the film from being made, before the final dramatic scene of the bomber's death is finally allowed to unfold.
Nostalgia 2009. As described above.
For me video installation art really sets my mind on fire when it's done correctly, but what's so frustrating about it is rarely can the viewer get to take it into the privacy of their own home, and the video's life in the museum (which I now rarely have access to) is often short lived. Omar Fast's Nostalgia is at the Whitney until Feb 14th, De Grote Boodschap and Take a Deep Breath are at Postmasters (Chelsea) until Feb 13th.