Field Notes: May Makki on “Penumbra,” Fondazione In Between Art Film, Venice

Field Notes: May Makki on “Penumbra,” Fondazione In Between Art Film, Venice

e-flux Education

July 21, 2022
Field Notes: May Makki on “Penumbra,” Fondazione In Between Art Film, Venice
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Field Notes: “Penumbra,” Fondazione In Between Art Film, Venice
by May Makki

Set in a sixteenth-century emergency shelter turned church turned cultural center, “Penumbra” presents eight newly commissioned video installations by Karimah Ashadu, Jonathas de Andrade, Aziz Hazara, He Xiangyu, Masbedo, James Richards, Emilija Škarnulytė, and Ana Vaz and is organized by Fondazione In Between Art Film on the occasion of the 59th Venice Biennale. The exhibition’s title provides a loose framework. Referring to the zone of partial illumination between shadow and light, it generates associations with both the light reflected from a film screen in a dark theater and the shadows cast by celestial bodies during an eclipse. The presentation accentuates film’s potential for perceptual play, drawing on the worlds contained in them, the physical viewing spaces, and the space between. Repurposed as an exhibition space, the Complesso dell’Ospedaletto is full of reminders of its past functions. Installed among in the building’s eerie offices and lavish Baroque altars, the films not only produce a striking contrast between old and new but also create a sense of continual shapeshifting. In an opposite pull, each installation is announced by a numbered lightbox reminiscent of those at a cinema designating individual theaters, bracketing each work with a signal of more traditional film presentation. Together, these two effects alternatingly establish and break down the expected boundaries of the screen.

Two films explore surface in content and form. In James Richards’s Qualities of Life (Living in the Radiant Cold) (2022), the artist takes an endoscopic approach to his own bodily interiors. The film incorporates footage from an MRI scan into a body of views that poetically interpret the theme and iconography of medical care. Pills and toenail clippers, among other objects swept up from the artist’s apartment and studio, float in an ambient black space to an eerie soundtrack with the lyrics “my, my, my apocalypse.” The installation design increases the sensation of diving under the surface: upon entering the space, a massive black wall blocks access to the screen, making the visitor’s first experience of the work aural rather than visual. In this way, an intense, moody interiority foregrounds the appearance of sterile objects and medical imagery. Aphotic Zone (2022), by Emilijia Škarnulytė, dives into the pitch black depths of the Gulf of Mexico. In this blackness—the watery region of the title—marine scientists from Temple University are endeavoring to find a super coral species that can survive human-caused ocean warming and acidification. Advanced technologies like robotic arms penetrate the oceanic layer. The smooth and shiny black ceiling of the long gallery hosting the film reflects images on the screen, producing a doubling illusion or evoking the very depths that the different filmed machines descend through. The film’s audio palpably rumbling in the gallery amplifies the sense of being surrounded.

Read more May Makki’s Field Notes review on Art & Education.

Field Notes is a new series of reviews from the next generation of art writers. Featuring texts on the 59th Venice Biennale and Documenta 15 contributed by students and recent graduates, Field Notes makes original connections between the work and the world and takes a closer look at what other observers might have missed.

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