Smile, you're in Sharjah

single-channel HD video installation (rt 24:40 infinite loop, HDV transferred to Blu-Ray Disc) with spatialized 5.1 surround sound
collaboration with Erin Ellen Kelly (co-director) and Aaron Taylor Kuffner (score, sound mix)
commissioned + produced by the Sharjah Biennial 9 - 2009

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The title of Smile, you're in Sharjah comes from this Emirate’s own brand of welcome sign, spelled out in flowers in the middle of a roundabout notorious for its rush-hour traffic jams. The video is a study of the patterns and rhythms of movement through shared spaces of the city-state of Sharjah. In most cases we simply filmed what we found during our shoot in January 2009. In a few instances, however, we intervened to subtly rearrange situations, working with the people already present and the actions they were already performing, but making the inherent choreography of those movements more apparent for the camera by slightly shifting their usual positions in space or time. The most evident choreography of this particular video, however, happened in the editing rather than onsite - a new kind of collaboration for us, which developed during the production and post-production of this project.

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The circular structure of the video loop (which transitions from day to night to another day and finally a day-to-night before re-starting the loop) is intended to give viewers a sense of the cycles of this particular place in this particular moment - day to night, weekday to weekend, construction to demolition, labor to leisure – but also to explore the different currents of commuting and consumption required to connect and sustain those cycles over time.

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We were also interested in the interplay between Sharjah's facades, the self-image they construct, and their active maintenance, most visibly in the spaces discovered in-between more defined neighborhoods, suburbs, exurbs, or cities-within-the-city. As a city and a state, Sharjah is self-evidently a work-in-progress, and the workers responsible for the continual reconstructions of Sharjah - simultaneously the most omnipresent and invisible of its inhabitants -- became the main players in our video.


single-channel video (rt 6:16, DV transferred to DVD NTSC) with stereo sound
collaboration with Erin Ellen Kelly (performance), 2007

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As a McDonald's on 57th Street and 5th Avenue is being gutted and cleaned out in preparation for a new retail incarnation, a performance by dancer Erin Ellen Kelly is sited and filmed in the charged space and maze-like perspectives of the half-finished demolition, while the everyday movements of the renovation process continue around her.

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The surrender of her body to the space is amplified and complicated by a sound track made up of whispered and sung vocals that layer words and phrases in several languages, associated directly or elusively with the idea of surrender, into a kind of canon. The vocals include a fragment of an aria from the Gluck opera Paride ed Elena.


single-channel HD video installation (rt 25:00 infinite loop, HDV transferred to Blu-Ray Disc) installation with spatialized 5.1 surround sound
and 5 digital C-prints (Fugitive Refrains I-V, each print edition of 5)
collaboration with Erin Ellen Kelly (co-director, choreography, performance) + Qasim Naqvi (score), 2006/7

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Fugitive Refrains was conceived and produced collaboratively with Butoh-trained dancer/choreographer Erin Ellen Kelly during a residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. It was developed for, performed, and shot on HDV in six specific sites in the Solitude Rotwildpark forest and in the historic site of Schloss Solitude in summer 2006, edited in New York in fall 2006, scored by Qasim Naqvi in California in winter 2006-07, and premiered at the Akademie in spring 2007 as an immersive surround sound video installation, with a video projection covering a full wall of the room containing the video and the score and ambient sound moving from speaker to speaker throughout the space. The title of the video is derived from a line in a Wordsworth poem written a few decades after the construction of Schloss Solitude: "That nature yet remembers/what was so fugitive."

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Schloss Solitude is a pleasure palace built by Duke Carl Eugen in the late Rococo period, and contains one of the first examples of trompe l'oeil wood ever used in European architecture. The imitation of nature, in the belief that artifice could make nature better than nature itself, was typical of the late Rococo. Constant play with figure, ground, and false perspective, through trompe l'oeil and the use of mirrors, was another important facet of the aesthetic. The ornate design of the Schloss extended at the time into the forest surrounding it, which was originally intended as a vast hunting preserve stretching between and used by the castles of several different aristocrats in the area. An elaborate garden was planned, though never completely finished, just behind the Schloss, while the existing nature behind it was re-configured to accomodate the Duke's amusements, with grottos, paths, clearings and orchards planted into the forest in preparation for costume parties, and a system of artificial lakes dug into the hills for an annual gondola procession.

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Our project explored the forest as it is today for traces of the garden that once was projected onto it. We looked for sites where the landscape still remembers the human desires that shaped it and the pleasures once pursued there, and where the artifice of design has decayed into an almost-natural order. In these sites we used movement to outline the forms of what was or what might have been, the ruins of a plan now perceptible only in peripheral vision, working with ideas of movement drawn from the Rococo aesthetic - playing with perceptions of figure and ground, and embodiment between human and natural. We also shot the ornamental forms and figurations of nature in the interior architecture of the Schloss, in order to create an interplay onscreen between mirrors and echoes, nature and artifice, faux and real.


single-channel video (rt 19:40, DV transferred to DVD NTSC) with stereo sound;
mixed media installation with projection and 4.1 surround sound
collaboration with Emily Tepper (movement) + Michael Floyd (sound), 2004

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A skyscraper from the first days of Manhattan’s finance frenzy, hollowed out in preparation for a residential conversion never completed, is reanimated for one night by the ghosts of its working past -- traces of the building’s former lives which, unsettled by these inadvertent excavations into movement through the layers of history suspended in the echoing stairwells and elevator shafts, slip into the visible and audible one last time in the stripped-down spaces where all their daily rituals were once staged. Developed and produced collaboratively with choreographer Emily Tepper and sound designer Michael Floyd, TRACEXCHANGEXCAVATE stages and films a series of site-specific performances in the Woolworth Building at a unique moment in its architectural history, then builds them into an experimental narrative whose characters, movement, formal structure, sound and visual design are commonly grounded in that architecture and history, locating the viewer immediately within the private life lived by a building left to its own devices.

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After all the workers have fled into the night, you can hear the creaking, crackling sound of the Woolworth shifting uneasily in its skin, rumbling with the possibility of change, running through its nightly routines and checking its internal eyes. When the building’s ghosts emerge, they are humming, clicking traces of the Woolworth’s past exchanges and the transactions at its foundation, embodied by performers from New York’s downtown dance companies, glimpsed almost out of the corner of an eye on the deepest level of the basement. As they move up through the building’s levels and layers of history, they gather more and more intention, passing further into the audible and visible until finally, as day begins to break, they go beyond, flickering out just as they achieve a final release of the building’s official history.

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When shown as an installation, the video is projected in a room where one wall is covered with white shelves and hooks, upon which are displayed the physical traces of the rituals performed in the video, along with a spill of office supplies in one corner that foreshadow the release at the end of the dancers’ trajectory through the building. Left, right, left surround, right surround speakers and subwoofer are configured around the projection to immerse the viewer in the audible dimensions of each space inhabited by the performers.