MARIA ANTELMAN: THE APARTMENT · ATHENS, GREECE

 

Maria Anteman, VOYAGE #3, 2003 C-print


A large scale photograph of a group of soldiers, dressed up in retro uniforms and turning their backs to us, is the first thing you see entering US-based Greek artist, Maria Antelman's, first solo show at The Apartment gallery. “Where am I?” you wonder, looking at the old guns, the strange hats and the unidentified location, which looks like a forest. The fog (smoke?) covering the trees behind the soldiers in the next picture adds to the mystery, while the photograph of another group of soldiers caught resting in the woods seems to give a clue away: the impression you get on the whole is that of sneaking into a Hollywood studio where an historic film is being shot, or rather that of viewing a set of campaign photographs targeted for the media promotion of the film.


The funny (?) thing is that you are not looking at a set shot, but at “natural” images taken during the annual Reenactment/Revival of the Battle of Monmouth (apparently a landmark in the history of the 1776 American Revolution), which takes place somewhere in a park in New Jersey. (At a time where the “Real War” “out there” seems to be following a blockbuster scenario, Antelman invites us to watch the Hollywood-like Reeneactment/Revival of a historic battle set in real time.) These smartly conceived and beautifully executed photographs offer us a penetrating, and needless to say, unfortunately well-timed glance at the American psychosis with war and the extent to which this hysteria affects the way the whole planet conceives reality, and at the same time a brilliant comment on the different levels of reconstruction of reality.


Antelman's survey on representation and time, based on found footage, makes itself clearer in the second part of the exhibition, which consists of two films. In Voyage-A Comprehensive Questionnaire, shortcuts of the same Reeneactment/Revival of the Monmouth battle are set against the voice of a medium, which communicates messages from aliens. The video-a sequence of animated photos, to be more exact-is coupled with voiceovers from an extraterrestrial research website and forms a clairvoyant that channels aliens' messages. Anachronistic situations and bizarre lifestyles are transformed into futuristic scenarios reflecting on the “Americana” by merging past and future, fact and fiction, the ridiculous and the sublime. The idea of the “relax-everything-is-going-to-be-all-right” voice of the medium and the formal way in which the perversions are being spoken out-just like completing a statistic questionnaire-is hypnotizing, making it even more difficult to make out who the aliens are after all: E.T. or the thousands of “just like you an me” Americans who dress up in red, brush down their guns, and live a weekend of battle in a New Jersey park? What we have here is a multi-layered comment on the obsession of American culture with the heroic past, and at the same time a humoristic look at the semiology of dozens of sub-cultures-an inextricable element of American society.


In the second film, New Horizons, a “Frequently Asked Questions” session addressing the Ins and Outs of Cryogenics is juxtaposed with the visuals from a Rodeo competition. The quasi-surreal effect of the cinematic images of cowboys struggling on the back of a horse, passing the baton to the flamboyant shots of saddles and spurs on the screen, together with the soundtrack of a conversation on the possibilities of eternal life, calls for a do-it-yourself, subjective reading. Watching Antelman's film, Jean Baudrillard's theory of simulacra, and especially his book, America, comes to mind, where nothing is more real than Truman's (Show/life in the homonymous movie). Moreover, at another level, both videos seem to pay tribute to Chris Marker's survey on cinematic time-the videos being a composition of photographs, filmed in a way that brings to mind Marker's much-sited photomontage in La Jetee.


Even if, in the films, the “parallel use of texts” and images of different subcultures which constitute the “Americana” (from rodeo to cryogenics) let the layers of Antelman's glance manifest themselves more clearly, the core of her work has been conceived and communicated with the click of her very first photograph. Antelman's work is, at the end of the day, less about the (sur)reality of different subcultures, and more about the way reality is experienced and represented at different cultural and mental levels.


Despina Zefkili
Athens, Greece
2004