Rosalind Nashashibi: Bachelor Machines part 2

Exhibition: 18 April - 1 June 2009

For the first time, the work of British artist Rosalind Nashashibi (1973, Croydon) will be shown in two solo exhibitions in Cologne and in Stuttgart. Projects in Art & Theory presents the double 16mm film projection Bachelor Machines part 2 (2007) in their space and at the Dark Fair at Cologne Kunstverein, along with Flash in the Metropolitan (2006), another 16mm film made in collaboration with Scottish artist Lucy Skaer.

Nashashibi’s work consists mainly of film installations, but also photographs, collages and screenprint. Characteristic for her work is a particular look at everyday scenes, objects and micro-societies from a detached, analytical and seemingly unobserved perspective. The position of the frame and the level of detail in the shot build to create a kind of intensity, slowing our visual perception and forcing us to question what it is that we are looking at. This double vision, described by Aleida Assmann as staring and gazing, finds its visual equivalence in the small format double projection of 16mm-film Bachelor Machines part 2: here, we see black-and-white sequences consisting partly of found footage from Artist’s Under the Big Top: Perplexed (1968) by Alexander Kluge on the left, with short cuts from the artist-s own, earlier colour film works Eyeballing and Park Ambassador (2005) on the right. One main focus of this work is also the original recorded sound of an interview between Thomas Bayrle and Mathias Faldbakken at Office of Contemporary Art Oslo in 2007. Nashashibi became acquainted with Bayrle during an artist residency in Scandinavia. In this conversation, he states his own daring yet suggestive theory on the weaving and influence of the machine on the Western European, Christian world and its connection to the rhythm of the words in a rosary prayer. Ever since medieval times, these words have stood for the power of the monk’s desires and, according to Bayrle, can be seen in relation to the combustions of a diesel engine. Thus, in an abstract way, they can also be seen as a manifestation of engine energy. The left projection shows Thomas Bayrle with his wife Helke sitting on a sofa, holding hands in a gesture of intimacy. As with Footnote from 2008, the film could also be considered Nashashibi’s homage to the artist couple.

The Bayrle couple’s filmic settings are arranged as re-enactment of the original scenes with the performer Leni Peickert and her paternal friend Dr. Busch, and alternate with Kluge’s footage of the naked protagonist on a sofa with oriental patterns. In the projection on the right, we see the artist’s own film sequences: the swing-set from Park Ambassador that resembles a totem or a messenger and seems to guard the neighbourhood and scenes from Eyeballing, which finds and focus on face-like structures in objects or walls and peers through the entrance of the American police office in New York next to Ground Zero. These scenes are blurred, an abstract pattern of colour fields, and only pull into focus when Bayrle’s conversation turns to the stuccato-like words in the rosary prayer, which live on – in an abstract way – in the machine. The process of cognition is made visible in the pulling of the images back into focus. Perception is reflected explicitly in both cited works: "Eyeballing" is another word for gaping or staring. This procedure provokes a visual dissection of the similarities emerging from the filmed images and underlying layers and qualities come to light with the extended gaze or prolonged observation. This process transcends mere examination by revealing the singularity of things and picking their poetic impenetrability as a central theme.

Bachelor Machines part 2 focuses on the collage-like and asynchronous mounted filmic sequences as few other works do: The films start out chronologically out-of-sync and are not the same length. On the other hand, they seem to complement one another as analogues, as do Bayrle’s theory of the prayer rogation and the machine. Nashashibi’s use of asynchronicity mirrors Kluge’s 1968 film and sound montage about the reformation of the circus. This early film is an elaborate, fictional and essayistic work examining sociological changes and liberation movements and their failure. Kluge seems the ideal counterpart to Bayrle, both in terms of his being Bayrle’s friend and companion and through his presence in the found footage for Bachelor Machines part 2. The actors’ or authors’ self-reflective attitude towards their artistic work finds a connection in both projections: Nashashibi herself shows it in retrospect through filmic sequences of two former works, Bayrle reveals it with his theory on the development of the machine – central to his artistic approach – and Kluge transfers it, along with its protagonist, artist Leni Peickert and her life story. All self-reflections have an intense rhythmic and performative approach, connected through the mechanics of the film projector machine. Bachelor Machines part 2 is the second part of a reflection on the machine. The first part addresses a cruise and its male crew in 27 episodes, and focuses on the close relationship between the container ship and its micro-society. Just as the Bachelor machines in Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass (1915-23; La mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires, mêmes) are represented as separate, self’referential entities, in Nashashibi’s work they are focused (in a way that recalls Bayrle) on the analogous functions of the machines. In both Bachelor Machine parts, the artist looks past the frames of the filmic apparatus for hidden correlations that, besides the gaze of cultural and anthropological history, have an innate, poetic and reflexive character in and of themselves.

Flash in the Metropolitan is Rosalind Nashashibi’s second co-production with Scottish artist Lucy Skaer after Ambassador (2005), which was produced during artist’s residency at the Scottish Arts Council in New York. 16mm film camera and strobe light in hand, the artists ventured into the Metropolitan Museum by night to film its exhibits under flashes of light, be it popular religious masks, small medieval sculptures or primitivism cult and ritualistic objects from Europe, Oceania, Africa and the Near East. The camera moves slowly, peering past vitrines to the objects, and returns at the end of the 3:30 minute-film back to the original image. The camera pauses, keeps at a distance or nearly touches the reflecting surfaces from one moment to the next. In their black surroundings, the flashing strobe light on the surfaces of the objects and the filmic trace create a kind of afterimage on the retina of the eye. It is only in these afterimages that the subjectivity of perception and its ephemeral production of images becomes apparent. For a split second, ancient masks and faces emerge in a flash from the dark with an irregular frequency and intensity of light. It is not long enough for us to recognise the visual connection between the objects, the intention is to liberate the objects from the fixed exhibition structure so that they might regain something of their original magical character for an instant in time. Combined with the objects, the shoot itself also has something of a magical and performative character as it switches between reality and the realm of the possible and the chimerical, like a ritual act whereby the artists become part of the diegesis. The subtle changes in light and shadow, the somewhat simple editing and film techniques and the physical analogies between the museum space and the black box of the apparatus show Nashashibi’s and Skaer’s basic interest in material qualities of the medium such as film and the experiments of the early cinematography as well as the subversive methods of re-contextualization when detached from time. Flash in the Metropolitan not only eludes the fixed entities of time and space, but also logic of any kind and a readable narrative structure, whether chronological or museological.