October 30 – December 23, 2011
On Stellar Rays is pleased to present Tommy Hartung’s second solo exhibition, an ambitious expansion of and conscious departure from his work in video to date.
Comprised of a single channel HD video and multi-faceted installation, Hartung addresses the problem of achieving credible representations of violence in today’s highly saturated visual culture and the paradoxical failure of emancipatory ideologies to serve the interests of ordinary people. Neither conclusive diagnosis, nor straightforward political commentary, the exhibition attempts instead to foreground the pathos of political promise, set against a formal and historical trajectory of Realist literature, cinema and art.
Anna (2011), the central video, takes its name from the main character in Leo Tolstoy’s realist masterpiece Anna Karenina. Though Anna is not directly represented, the societal conflict and personal desperation she experiences is acutely embodied in a cast of dismembered and dejected figurative sculptures. These androgynous effigies move through states of disorientation, hostility and playfulness, bound by communal acts of labor. Stop motion sequences shot in the studio are layered with superimposed scenes from the Soviet socialist realist film Earth (1930) and computer simulations of crowd movement, figuratively projecting ideas of mass politicization onto artificial constructions of the pastoral and rural.
In Anna, the social and ecological ethos of Tolstoyan philosophy is construed to reveal romanticized notions of rural and urban working class communities in the Realist tradition, and a similarly nostalgic longing for the agrarian in America. Tolstoy’s own ascetic beliefs were arguably rooted in his own privileged class-consciousness, a problematic that draws parallels with collectivist-counter cultural movements of the 1960s, the back to the land movement of the 1980s, and recent trends in urban farming and homesteading.
Hartung pursues a migration of form and content between film and sculpture. Alongside Anna is a bricolage of sculptural objects assembled from diverse materials at hand in the artists studio during filming: the actual cinematic props, mannequin figures and elements of the stage set, and most prominently a forced perspective wall and camera track system used for panning shots. Hence, the site of production is in effect transferred to the exhibition space, actively extending an ongoing process of fictionalization and ideological unpacking of neo-realist modes.
Hartung’s sophisticated handling of film languages, including stop-motion animation, historical vérité and recent citizen journalism and documentary styles, produces a pluralistic approach to image-making, albeit one held masterfully coherent by a unifying structural arc. Importantly, Hartung does not separate his own experience from his working process. The division between camera and cameraman, or artist and working process, is as close to dissolved as possible. As he says, “in the film the camera acts as the only form of life.”
Tommy Hartung received his MFA from the Columbia University in 2006 and his BFA from SUNY Purchase in 2004. Recent exhibitions include Greater New York at MoMA/PS1, Queens, NY (2010); Reconstruction 1, On Stellar Rays (2010); Impossible Vacation at White Flag Projects, St Louis, MO (2010); The Ascent of Man, On Stellar Rays, New York, NY (2009); The Pipe and the Flow at Galería Espacio Mínimo, Madrid, Spain (2009); SCREEN, 8 Seymor Place, London, UK (2009); Queens International 4 at the Queens Museum of Art (2008); Moti Hasson Gallery, New York, NY (2008); Gresham’s Ghost, New York, NY (2008); White Box, New York, NY (2007); and screenings at The Rotterdam Film Festival (2011), Anthology Film Archives, New York (2008), CRG Gallery, New York (2007), and Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York (2007).