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“More Than I Looked For”: Jeff Preiss at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

by Wyatt Niehaus

 

As part of Jeff Preiss’ solo exhibition More Than I Looked For at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, two digital projections titled STOP (1995–2012) and 14 STANDARD 8mm REELS 1981–1988 (2018) heavily emphasize the physicality of celluloid and the projections’ material relationship to cinema. The latter work, in particular, uses the reel structure of film projection to order short vignettes, lasting around five minutes each, in a sequence. Each reel features a dedication, most of which are to those who have a personal relationship with the artist or who feature in some way in the reel.

 

In ways less immediate than Tony Conrad’s The Flicker (1966) or Morgan Fisher’s Standard Gauge (1984)—both of which explore the material underpinnings of film projection—Jeff Preiss in 14 STANDARD 8mm REELS reminds the viewer of the principal mechanics of the cinematic experience: light and shadow, both of which are dominant and recurrent in each reel. The artist works with the marginal material of film, leader, and cue marks, to the point of abstraction. The result is an intensely gestural conclusion distinct from the preceding thirteen reels, while still pointing backward at the cinematic apparatus through which it is employed.

If 14 STANDARD 8mm REELS offers more evident and primal associations with the cinematic field, STOP develops this material more thoroughly, addressing cinema’s narrative forms. The film is composed of two- to three-second shots on 16 mm film of both marginal activity made primary and primary activity captured at the margins: holidays on the beach, hailing a cab, observing the countryside from the window of a train, moments between scenes during the production of another film or just off-center from the main camera on a commercial film shoot, acting as a parasite to a host of other kinds of “productive” or leisure-time activity . And while 14 STANDARD 8mm REELS vividly evokes an era of cinematic experimentation alongside a notion of New York as the locus of polyphonic bohemian production, STOP captures an  epilogue of this era—shots of a more encompassing moment of generational definition, that of September 11, 2001.

The twin towers, which are observed from Brooklyn in 14 STANDARD 8mm REELS and which took on a whole other suite of associations from the 1980s, are shown in a strangely quiet moment of destruction in STOP. The camera is trained on the World Trade Center from what we might assume is the window of Preiss’ home as smoke billows out of the massive steel structures. The strength of both these films is the degree to which they dutifully record relations between the intimate, the social, and the broader political of the eras they were produced in.

In tandem with political and social issues, much of the pace and sequence of STOP evokes narrative associations. At a consistent tempo, the artist brings viewers in and out of cinematic standards, as tonal shifts or narrative developments that are the result of the semi-random compositional framework point toward something more intentional. What he develops is a piece in which the audience’s training as cinematic viewers is instrumentalized to produce an experience in which some fleeting clarity is mined. The use of sound echoes this complexity. None of the audio featured in STOP was captured concurrently with filming, with one notable exception that acts as the narrative resolution of the film—a brief moment captured off to the side of another video camera as Isaac, the artist’s son, discusses with an interviewer his journey toward gender determination. This narrative shows the development of Isaac, who is, unsurprisingly, the subject captured most lovingly by this system of image production, which otherwise has the tendency to challenge, remove, or otherwise imply the cinematic hierarchies of the images at which we, as viewers, are asked to look.

Preiss’ “home movies” challenge viewers to observe critically all that lies in the diaristic. The exhibition is somehow also an aggregate of Preiss’ contemporaries and, thus, expands further the degree to which the sense of the social is central to its viewing. However, the most dominant attribute of More Than I Looked For is the artist’s capacity to zoom in and out of drastically different scales of association while insisting on their inextricability from one another.

 

at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
until 5 January 2020

 

 

 

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