LILITH

Tommy Hartung

January 17 - March 23, 2017

Opening event: 17 January, 8pm

Curator: Adi Gura

Tommy Hartung’s (b. 1978, New York) solo show draws inspiration from various folklore stories and legends which are granted a visual presence through video works, photography and sculpture. This is Hartung’s first solo show at the gallery, following a project in the Bakery space two years ago. In February this year Hartung will open a solo show at the Rose Museum, Boston and in March he will participate in The 2017 Whitney Biennial (curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks).

In his work, Hartung explores the potential of the moving image. He deconstructs and analyzes cultural narratives through collage, assemblage and cinematic tricks. His works can be called “underground films”, starring objects build from domestic and quotidian materials. His work process includes the creation of a set, the sculpting of objects, script writing and of course the filming itself, followed by an editing process in stop motion technique. Hartung is drawn to what he refers to as “dead cinema”, a term which implies the characters of the objects he works with – puppets instead of living actors, studio-made dioramas instead of a set and old archival photographs.

Georges Méliès, a pioneer of cinema who explored the cinematic medium is considered to be the inventor of cinematic special effects. In 1900 he created the film ‘One Man Band’, in which he simultaneously played seven different characters. Hartung, like Méliès, is a one man show: he builds the set, shots the film and edits the footage himself. Tom Gunning defines the series of films created by Méliès in the beginning of the 20th century as “cinema of attractions”, as they presented a situation rather than a linear narrative. The main attractions in the films were the objects, the characters, a certain behavior or the formation of drama. The focus was centered on the display, on the exposure and on the direct approach to the viewer. The visual devices that were formed in these years, through projections of slides and animation, strengthen the emphasis on methods of representations, which came at the expanse of a distinguished narrative. These creators drew their inspiration mainly from popular culture. The films where silent, and all the spectators had for the deciphering the narrative was visual elements: the camera movements, the editing and the characters’ pantomime.

Hartung uses video in a similar manner. His practice is “process-driven”: “I rely on a process of indulgence of the physical object I produce, as on the development of an animation sequence.” He adds that his works are in fact a documentary about himself and his relationship with cultural objects and narratives. Hartung builds a box or a miniature setting and imagines what should happen in it, but he cannot be entirely sure until the moment of happening. This fragmentary working mode allows him to create a sense of naturalness, in which he acts out various ideas regarding the object – some following the rationale, linear character of classic cinema, while others, like in ‘Lilith’, avoid a clear cause and effect relation. The final outcome exists in a space lacking any clear or coherent narrative, which deals with questions of time, movement and space.

Hartung’s main motivation in this series is his interest in demons, which represent a self-contradiction and a dimorphic appearance. Lilith is one of these characters, as she plays many different roles: in the sages of the Mishna and the Talmud and in the Zohar she is described as a demon, and according to late Jewish mythology she is Adam’s first wife. Today, many see her as a feminist symbol. According to the Greek myth, Lilith jeopardizes women giving birth and newborns, and symbolizes rebelliousness, evilness and lack of modesty. In the ancient world she represented the antithesis of the Jewish women.

Narratively, Demons are convoluted vessels for paradoxes and are placed in stories when something is amiss. Yet this kind of internal contradiction within a character is more like human subjectivity than any heroic figure. The visual expression of this representation is mostly present in the face or head, and indeed a series of head sculptures is displayed in the central space of the gallery. The sculptures do not portray specific subjects, but are rather caught in between a concrete representation and a generalized model of a human head. This kind of portraits is present in many of Hartung’s works, in which fictive persona function as doubles for his characters (for example in the work ‘Anna’ from 2012, which is based on the novel ‘Anna Karenina’).

However, in this current sculpture series, Hatung’s white demons become still objects, lacking a moving image. He nonetheless explores the possibility of creating movement with these static sculptures. As the viewer walks around the heads the surface is crafted to catch light and shadow in unnatural ways. The projected light is only to enhance the experience of trying to read a face and the light’s movement adds a theatrical dimension to the spectator’s experience.

The position of the hair on the heads and its shape form a sense of movement as well. Hair is an essential characteristic of a human head, and is charged with social and cultural symbolism. It frames the way in which we perceive a person. The human brain is attuned to the reception of facial expressions, and can reflect the motives of a certain character. However, Hartung’s white demons sculptures are an attempt to avoid this dimension of certainty. The sculptures are made of CelluClay, a flexible material that hardens permanently when dried.

In the Bakery space, the video ‘Lilith’ (2016) is projected. Through the use of cinematic techniques and with influences from various cinematic styles such as Cinema Vérité, Hartung breathes life into still objects. These are “experiments” that are rebuild in front of the camera. The objects are difficult to define or recognize, and are built from various household objects such as plastic bags, matches, cardboard boxes and toys. The style in most of Hartung’s works is “nostalgic” ­– the objects are hand made in an amateurish fashion, and the lo-fi footage combines basic techniques that were common in the early days of cinema.

‘Lilith’s sound track is taken from a trance voodoo ritual, in which women dance and become vessels for a certain kind of divinity summoned by the music. In the film, this dance is described as a children story, with toys and colorful lights. The experience of trance is usually described as abstract rather than following a clear narrative. Accordingly, the camera work and editing are abstract and open for interpretation rather than fostering a linear story. The work also draws inspiration from films of Pier Pasolini and the cartoonist R. Crumb.

Hartung gained his BFA from Purchase State College, NY and his MFA from Columbia University, NY.
Selected solo shows: The Rose Art Museum, Boston; Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht; Hammer Museum, LA; On Stellar Rays gallery, NY and Meyers Gallery, University of Cincinnati, among rest.
Selected group shows: University Art Museum at University at Albany, Albany, NY; The Jewish Museum, NY; Fahrenheit, LA; International Film Festival Rotterdam; Team gallery, NY; Grey Art Gallery, NYU, NY; Espacio Minimo, Madrid; Lehmann Maupin gallery, NY; MoMA PS1, NY; Queens Museum, NY; New York Center for Art & Media Studies, NY; CRG gallery, NY and Elizabeth Dee gallery, NY, among rest.
He is a recipient of The Louis Comfort Tiffany prize and the Joan Mitchell scholarship for painting and sculpture. His works are included and many public art collections such as: Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; MoMA, NY; The Rose Art Museum, Boston; Hammer Museum, LA; Daskalopoulos Collection, Greece and many more.

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53.3x33x33 cm.

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78.7x34.3x33 cm.

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53.3x88.9 cm

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05:31 min.

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88.9x53.3 cm.

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