In an all-video exhibition opening this March, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
introduces a new generation of artistsYael Bartana, Johanna Billing, Phil Collins, Javier Téllez, and Artur Zmijewskiexploring the expressive potential of social experiment, where the impromptu actions of people are captured to surprisingly powerful effect. In their videos, the artists engage non-actors in situations that allow unscripted actions and emotions to unfold. Facing physical challenges, disparate political ideals, or high-stakes competition, the participants' reactions highlight the forces of isolation, connection, and friction that shape our lives today. Acting Out: Social Experiments in Video is on view at the ICA from March 18 to Oct. 18, 2009.
"Since video's rise in the late 1960s, the ICA has had a history of marking new trends in the medium," says Jill Mevedow, Director of the ICA. "Acting Out offers a timely group of artworks in which artists, in concert with real people, reveal profound, important, and disturbing aspects of the social condition."
"The artists' unique approach cedes some artistic control to the participants so that their natural reactions and social chemistry can come forward as a powerfully expressive medium," says Jen Mergel, Associate Curator at the ICA. "By staging provocative and poignant scenarios, the artists capture the participants' explosive outbursts or more passive gestures. These acute emotions are highlighted and intensified by audio, visual, or rhythmic cues in the video."
In Wild Seeds (2005), Yael Bartana (b. 1970, Israel) records Israeli teens in a game, first playful, then unsettling, in which "police" pull "settlers" from a clinging group. The escalating hostility of action and dialoguetranslated into English on a separate screenecho the conflicted sentiments in the Occupied Territories.
Johanna Billing's (b. 1973, Sweden) work Magical World (2005) presents Croatian children rehearsing an American song. The fragile melancholy and optimism in the song, coupled with the children's struggle with a new language, evoke their country's efforts to adopt Western ideals.
Phil Collins's (b. 1970, England) video entitled he who laughs last laughs longest (2006) highlights the hysteria of televised competition. In a contest to see who can laugh longest, set in the small Scottish town where television was born, laughter is transformed from a natural and personal expression of release into an exhausting, defeating performance.
In Letter on the Blind, for the Use of Those Who See (2007), Javier Téllez (b. 1969, Venezuela) invites a group of blind people to touch and share their perceptions of a live elephant. Inspired by the Indian parable "The Blind Men and the Elephant," Tellez updates the ancient narrative's lesson that every being experiences the same thing in a unique way.
Artur Zmijewski (b. 1966, Poland) organizes a workshop in which social activists create and desecrate each other's symbols of belief. THEM (SIE) (2007) presents groups of nationalist Polish youth, conservative Catholics, leftist socialists, and Jewish activists who actively and aggressively negotiate, fight, or ultimately withdraw from the exchange in ways that echo the successes and failures of diplomacy.