New City, April 17, 2008
Kirsten Leenaars’ Travelogue of a Stationary Dreamer is a fragile and vulnerable
video installation now showing at the Contemporary Art Workshop (CAW), a space that
always seems about to be swallowed up, even though the CAW has been around for
decades. It is the first video installation CAW has mounted in its fifty-eight-year history,
and the space is well-suited to the demanding—and rewarding—act of meditation that
Leenaars’ work demands.
At one end of a dark room, a pile of paper airplanes is lit by the blue screen of a blank
TV set. At the other end is a video projection. In the video a man sits at a table and
diligently folds paper airplanes. The TV is on. We are in Samuel Beckett territory.
Paper is everywhere—folded, fallen paper, suggesting messages, thoughts, emails,
forming a mound like a grave. This silent mountain of paper on the side of the room
opposite the video projection is a monument, the finished result, of what is going on in
the video: the man’s strained, repetitive motions of folding and sending, folding and
sending, his image distorted and interrupted by projected shadows and cutout animation.
The TV here is the TV of childhood, the drone of listless afternoons, of the nothing that is
always on: war movies, murmuring narrations. Leenaars edited down many hours of actual broadcasts and turned the images into simple black-and-white paper-collage
animations in a style reminiscent of William Kentridge. The result is projected into a
hollowed-out TV, whose screen has been replaced by paper, slightly wrinkled.
For Leenaars, the opened-up television suggests how “as a kid, you imagine things
happening in that cabinet space” of the television set. “Originally, I wanted somebody
living inside of a television,” Leenaars says, “but the television became more like a
symbolic space, one that we all live in.”
In the video the sound of the television plays like a media feed that is also an inner
voice, the captivated thoughts of a worker engaged in a menial, manual task.
But when the man turns to the camera and begins to sing Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy,”
he does so with a suavity and grace that is disturbingly enjoyable (he is played by Dale
Schriemer, an opera singer based in Michigan). And then the man in the TV raises his
remote, and switches you off.
Kirsten Leenaars, Travelogue of a Stationary Dreamer, shows at Contemporary Art
Workshop, 542 West Grand Place, (773) 472-4004, through May 13.