an installation by Nadia Hironaka & Matthew Suib
Sept 19 - Nov 1, 2012
The 10-channel work 1967 by the Philadelphian artists Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib uses the spectacle and phantasmagoria of the 1967 International and Universal Exposition — more commonly known as Expo 67—as the starting point for a socio-political investigation into a wide array of sub-themes and narratives.
Working as a couple since 2008, Hironaka & Suib are best known for their innovative use of video technology and digital practices, with a special interest in the historical, cultural and social value of imagery itself. As Suib says, “one of the key concerns of our most recent work is a desire to free the moving-image from its most common containers--the comfortable rectangles of the projection screen, television or computer monitor. We appreciate the efficacy of these devices in delivering images, but we’re also excited about the possibilities of pushing formal and technological limits to shift relationships between viewer and image.”
Their latest piece, 1967 reflects that sensibility. The piece refers directly to Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise, which was made in 1967. La Chinoise follows five students as they attempt to engage in revolutionary acts, yet always with distinctly pedagogical and ideological overtones. The film was Godard’s rumination on France’s New Left student movement (a year before the riots of 1968) and it ends with one of the five students, Veronique, as she attempts to assassinate a key political figurehead yet fails.
Hironaka & Suib see 1967 as a kind of epilogue to La Chinoise, only it uses different forms and reference points to continue Godard’s narrative. The narrative of 1967 occurs in space as much as it does in time. The image of the rabbit at the beginning refers to the Chinese astrological sign of the Year of the Rabbit, which is the year the piece was made (2011-2012). The projections on the columns at the arched entrance are images of people entering into Expo 67 (what’s more, the viewer’s shadow places them inside the work).
In the first gallery, we are introduced to the image of a Rooster, which in Chinese Astrology represents honesty, courage and a feisty personality. The Rooster is a double for ‘the China-Girl’, an epithet used for the figure seen in film leader of the time, that projectionists used to adjust skin tones. But the Rooster/China Girl, is also a double for Veronique, who appears throughout the entire piece.
The collage in the first section includes scenes culled from Godard’s La Chinoise, as well as a Godard-like moment that was recreated for the film, which uses dialog (subtitles) from La Chinoise itself. Here the idea of seduction is paired with political action, while exercise and physical movement, which are often dictated by Communist states, become a reoccurring trope throughout the space.
In the next section of the video (in the main room), we see an image projected onto an A-Frame screen. In Western architecture, the A-Frame was the very symbol of success, escapism, and family togetherness. In the 1960s and 70s however, it also came to define the “swinging bachelor pad” aesthetic of the era, which suggested manliness, rugged individualism and sex. Yet, what we see in the projection are two simultaneous narratives. On the one hand there is a scene of dancing women in pink, which are taken from YouTube videos of Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Again, the image of uniform dance moves reflects the obedience to the state, and in turn the values, success and beauty of Chinese culture today. On the other hand we see a flow of text, which is an inner dialog from Veronique as she philosophizes on the nature of images, or in particular, about the meaning of being an image. (We see Godard’s image of Veronique through the text also, which is combined with images of women culled from Chinese musicals.) The audio features the same text read aloud by a Chinese translator.
At one point in this section, Veronique also muses about the meaning of color and how “R.G.B” (red, green, blue) has distinct racial and/or political connotations. Hironaka & Suib underscore similar ideas by using video projectors throughout the space to project solid colors onto opposing walls (which are often overlapped and blended by the mirror).
The screen opposite the “pink ladies” contains key expository elements that belong mostly to Veronique. It begins with a phrase taken from Chairman Mao Zedong (which we see in architecturally-sized font) where Mao makes a rare commentary on the meaning of art and aesthetics. We then read more comments by Veronique (which we hear in Chinese) as she describes her desire to visit Expo 67 and commit a terrorist act that will “challenge the cultural machine.”
As we enter into the middle section of the gallery, we enter into Expo 67 itself. On the far right wall we see stock footage of dancing girls who were hired to draw attention to the event and underscore its sexual seduction. (These girls offer a Western counterpoint to the Chinese women in the previous section). On the other wall we see a collage that often features Veronique as the Rooster/China Girl visiting the various pavilions at the Expo. (Hironaka & Suib have also woven in images of contemporary “heroes” such as Ai Weiwei, who stand for the importance and credibility of resistance). Viewers will also find in this section, a small television set that displays a documentary about Expo 67, which ultimately deconstructs its architecture, ideology and meaning. Much of it quotes Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle in particular, which was published the same year as La Chinoise, 1967.
The last room represents the last pavilion that Veronique visits, and the one where she commits her terrorist act. But it’s also the “future” as seen from a 1967 perspective, showing recent revolutionary acts, such as the Arab Spring and the recent Chinese cultural revolution. The standing figure seen in the largest screen is the president of China, who is interspersed with images Shanghai’s Expo 2010. The large flat screen television in the back of the space is filled with dialog culled from La Chinoise, where the students are “taught” ideas about revolution. But this is also Godard’s vision and it’s directly related to cinema. Here Godard suggests that the only way that we can decide if a film image is fact or fiction is whether it has a direct corollary in “real life.” In other words, one could argue that, because we sent a man to the moon, the film A Trip to the Moon by George Melies in 1902, was not fantasy but a documentary. In other words, film doesn’t necessarily have a time frame since, like music, it can “exist” as much in the present moment as the past and future. Meanwhile, the images of burning forms that can be seen on the 3 small TVs can be attributed to footage of Buckminister Fuller’s bio dome, which burned to the ground in the 1970s. Once again the nature of time proves slippery. Is this Veronique’s “terrorist act”? Or the “prediction” of one?
Equal parts cinema, performance, text and teleconference, 1967 is a meditation on the role of the revolutionary (and the artist) in relation to historical developments in global politics and media. It’s also a masterful form of collage, which conveys its narrative not only over time, but through space.
About the Artists
Nadia Hironaka & Matthew Suib have worked as artistic collaborators since 2008. Their collaborative projects have been exhibited in museums, galleries and film festivals worldwide, including The Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, the Powel House Museum, Philadelphia, The Optica Festival, Buenos Aires, the Shang Elements Museum of Contemporary Art, Beijing, the Centro Arti Visive, Pesaro Italy, and the Moscow International Film Festival. They are currently artists in residence at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. Nadia Hironaka received her Masters of Fine Art from The Art Institute of Chicago and her Bachelors of Fine Art from The University of the Arts. Currently she resides in Philadelphia and is a professor at The Maryland Institute College of Art. She was a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellow and received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 2006. Other awards include: The Leeway Foundation, Peter Stuyvessant Fish Award in Media Arts, prog:me video artist award, The Black Maria Film Festival, and The New York Short Exposition Film Festival. Her films and video installations have been exhibited internationally in: PULSAR (Venezuela), Rencontres Internationals (Paris/Berlin), The Den Haag Film and Video Festival (The Netherlands), The Center for Contemporary Arts (Kitakyushu, Japan), The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Morris Gallery, The Black Maria Film Festival, The Donnell Library (NYC), The Fabric Workshop and Museum (Philadelphia), The Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia), The Galleries at Moore College of Art (Philadelphia), and Vox Populi, (Philadelphia). Hironaka’s second solo museum exhibition “The Late Show” was recently presented at Arizona State University Art Museum.
Philadelphia-based artist Matthew Suib has exhibited installations, video/sound works and photographs internationally at venues including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kunstwerke Berlin, Mercer Union (Toronto), The Corcoran Gallery of Art (D.C.) and PS1 Contemporary Art Center (NYC), The Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia), and the 2007 Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. His 2006 project Purified By Fire has been commissioned for exhibition in Miami, Chicago, Toronto and Paris. In 2011, Suib was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. He was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 2011 and was a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellow in 2005. Matthew was also a former member of the esteemed Philadelphia artist collective Vox Populi.