The Ascent of Man
November 1 – December 23, 2009
On November 1, On Stellar Rays will open an exhibition of New York-based artist TOMMY HARTUNG, featuring the premiere viewing of Hartung’s video, The Ascent of Man (2009).
The title of the exhibition and the principal video, The Ascent of Man, is adapted from the 1973 BBC documentary of the same name, which documents humanity’s ascent from proto-ape to modern man. Mixing elements of original film footage with his own stop-motion animations, Hartung investigates common mythmaking and story-telling tropes employed to entertain public television audiences, particularly as told by Jacob Bronowski, the series’ writer and presenter.
In Bronowski’s chronicles of human evolution, progress is linear and ascendant, and time dramatically condensed into a dozen television episodes. Hartung further abridges the narrative, suggesting the original series’ deductive foundations. In contrast to the original, Hartung avoids any temporal order or specificity, instead highlighting the dramaturgical, visual and aural cues enacted by Bronowski to suggest the grand arc of history. Bronowski’s persona plays a prominent role in Hartung’s video, isolated from his edifying role, and displaced in sets sculpted by the artist, mock institutional paradigms and constructions of cultural detritus collected by the artist. Although Hartung preserves the poetic, nostalgic rhetoric of the original The Ascent of Man, his reinterpretation offers an alternative narrative, distanced from any didactic or moralizing message.
Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man was produced shortly after Kenneth Clark’s documentary Civilisation, and shares many similar views about the role of art in a uniquely western perspective of civilization.
Tommy Hartung received his MFA from the Columbia University in 2006 and his BFA from SUNY Purchase in 2004. Recent exhibitions include Screen, 8 Seymor Place, London (2009); The Queens International 4 at the Queens Museum of Art (2008); Moti Hasson Gallery, New York (2008); Gresham’s Ghost, New York (2008); White Box (2007); and screenings at Anthology Film Archives, New York (2008), CRG Gallery, New York (2007), and Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York (2007).