The Absurd at the ICA

The voice of a woman in a plastic Viking helmet and green polka-dot sundress with brown corset, holding a giant foam cheese wedge, while donning an unexplained nosebleed, drifts throughout the ICA‘s second floor Project Space during the opening week of Video Art: Replay, Part 3. Ludicrous!. Video Art: Replay is a year-long, three-part exhibition showcasing recent video art in three different genres: documentary, animation and the absurd.

Dodge Kahn Cant Swallow
Still from Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn’s Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out (2006)

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn’s Can’t Swallow It, Can’t Spit It Out (2006) kicked off this final section on the absurd perfectly. Viewers watch as an anonymous cameraman follows around the wannabe Viking, that he found outside a hospital, throughout the greater Los Angeles area. The duo wanders over the course of a day looking to catch action on film, the woman acting as a self-appointed guide. Between questioning the intentions of the cameraman, she rambles off pop culture facts. At one point she even bursts into an enthusiastic rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. She also recounts traumatic memories, mostly from childhood. These flashbacks are all that seem grounded in her ramblings. Others are dreamlike scenarios, mostly dealing with run-ins in hell. Yet, all are told with an unfazed and upbeat tone. It’s as if her mannerisms and thoughts are directed by an adolescent mind. These stories often end with the drama-seeking phrase, “You should have been there for that!” While one would expect such a plot line to be a downer, it was actually rather enthralling and humorous. This film deserves to be watched more than once. Each viewing unlocks more depth into the eccentric’s moments of surprisingly profound utterances on the overlooked issues of city management.

My Barbarian Night Epiode
Still from My Barbarian’s Night Epi$ode (2009)

Week 2 took a deeper dive into the world of fantasy with the pilot for the Night Epi$ode (2009) series. My Barbarian, a Los Angeles performance group including Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon and Alexandro Segade, created this theatrical film as a satire of the art world and economy. A surreal and psychedelic introduction, reminiscent of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, presents a “nightmare curator,” a “curator of interdimensional practices,” and a “blind chief curator.” Sweltering in a spooky red glow, the condemned panel endlessly discusses possible artworks for their approaching exhibition. However, just as they pass judgment on the art, they too are being judged in this purgatorial space. The three curators have been trapped in this room in order to drive each other mad, much like in Sartre’s play, No Exit. The “nightmare curator” reminds the viewer of this punishment with the repetitive line, “There’s no exit – We’re on loop.” The film stands to comment on the crashing economy and stresses that come with that reality. Discomforting musical numbers are combined with neurotic images flashing across the screen, such as nooses around hundred dollar bills and a figure weighted down by a dollar sign. At one point, the “blind chief curator” even mutters, “The arts have not been kind.” The phrase “fear and regret” is introduced early on by a computerized voice, straight out of a sci-fi thriller. These emotions are what Night Epi$ode most seeks to convey.


More films exhibiting the absurd will be on view at the ICA through June 6th. Each week brings something new. The reception for Ludicrous! will be held on Thursday, April 22, from 6-8PM. For ICA members, there will be an earlier exhibition walk-through with curator, Jenelle Porter, at 5PM. This will focus on Mary Reid Kelley‘s Sadie, the Saddest Sadist (2009).

Mary Reid Kelley Sadie
Still from Mary Reid Kelley’s Sadie, the Saddest Sadist (2009)

Ludicrous! Schedule:

Week 3: April 7-11
Brian Bress
Status Report, 2009


Week 4: April 14-18
Ron Amstutz
Right Roads and Wrong Ways, 2008

Week 5: April 22-April 25 (Queer Voice opens)
Mary Reid Kelley
Sadie, the Saddest Sadist, 2009

Week 6: April 28-May 1
Mores McWreath
Remain, 2009


Week 7: May 5-9
Christian Jankowski
When I was a Cuisillo, 2009

Week 8: May 12-16
Ragnar Kjartansson
Satan is Real, 2007

Week 9: May 19-23
Shannon Plumb
The Corner, 2008

Week 10: May 26-30
Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz
Ask Chuleta, 2006-07

Week 11: June 2-6
Tamy Ben-Tor
End of Art, 2006

Catherine Sirizzotti has always been drawn to the literary and visual arts. She graduated with a degree in English from Ursinus College, and is currently an Art History Masters student at Tyler School of Art.