The Topical and the Tropical at the Fab Workshop

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Post by Andrea Kirsh

It’s not every day that the Fabric Workshop and Museum screens a video whose subject is front page news in the New York Times; but the other day, after waking up to Lawyer, Facing 30 Years, Gets 28 Months, to Dismay of U.S., I went to the recently-opened Paul Chan exhibition and found his rather lyrical documentary Untitled (Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, The Law and Poetry).

Lynne Stewart
Lynne Stewart, NY Times photo by Chang Lee, Feb. 11, 2005

I knew Chan’s previous animations using the imagery of Henry Darger, which prepared me for the two digital projections in the exhibition, from his Light 1-7 series. But the untitled video, with rather straight-forward footage of Stewart in conversation, is something altogether different.

Paul Chan
Paul Chan’s First Light at the Fabric Workshop

She’s an idealist who saw her legal career (now over, because of her conviction) as upholding the highest ideals of American freedom and justice. In the film, as in court, she quotes poetry (John Ashbery, William Blake, Berthold Brecht) as the most eloquent expression of these ideas; why speak prose when she can use poetry? While she recites, Chan withholds the images, giving us screens of monochrome colors. Chan has produced the poetic equivalent of the television interview.

Upstairs at Fabric Workshop Museum [in Selections from the Collections] is a new piece, Columna/Skirt by Ana Rosa Rivera Marrero which might be a coda to the Tesoros exhibition at the PMA.

lindo det.jpg
clothed statue from Tesoros exhibition at the PMA.

Rivera Marrero, who took her first degree at the Escuela de Artes Plasticas de Puerto Rico and her graduate work at Yale, has created three nine-foot forms from tourquoise and white ruched organza which are both costumes and architecture, the columns of Carribean colonial buildings. They made me think at once of the Spanish tradition of putting real garments on religious figures for special occasions (the PMA currently has one such clothed altarpiece in the lobby) and the nineteenth-century Anglo/American dressing of piano legs.

Maria Fernanda Cardoso
Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s Flea Circus at the FWM

The curator who installed the gallery has a good sense of humor, because directly opposite Rosa Rivera’s clothes for oversized imaginary figures is Maria Fernanda Cardoso’s Flea Circus with its video (magnified) of the artist and her real, trained insects. Fernanda Cardoso also crossed the Carribean (she’s from Bogota) to do graduate work at Yale, and the film and her flea circus tent are the most amazing testament to fantasy, imagination and grueling, repetitive work. I’d love to see an actual performance, but the film conveys the spirit of the project. She produced the circus in an edition of two; the other is owned by the Tate Modern. Philadelphia should appreciate its riches.

–Andrea Kirsh is an art historian living in Philadelphia.

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