Often, contemporary art gets stuck in a self-referential loop, questioning and inverting its own terms while losing track of surrounding questions and causes. Three current exhibitions in Chelsea and Williamsburg turn such investigations of mediation and aesthetics into opportunities for exploring cultural heritage and identity. Using video, installation, sculpture and photography, they question how sentimental and historical values become attached to objects and memories, and how those tokens of remembering in turn shape and distort our memories.
At Chelsea's Tina Kim Gallery, Korean video artist Yeondoo Jung's Handmade Memories is the result of a series of interviews with 12 elderly people encountered and interviewed on the streets of Seoul. On three pairs of screens, the interviews play alongside Jung's elaborate reconstructions of the memories being related. The move recalls Hirokazu Koreeda's meta-cinematic rumination on death Afterlife, and Jung's project isn't much different: to document the experiences of a dying generation in a nation that's modernized at breakneck speed during their lifetimes. And indeed, reminiscences of young love, leaving for the army, and starting families tend to be the strongest in these interviews. Jung's re-enactments, though, already blur the lines between historical text and sentimental drama. Each is visually stunning, performed by a carefully choreographed team for a static camera. Knowingly, Jung portrays memories as fictions distorted with every telling.
Alina and Jeff Bliumis undertake a less elaborate, more direct exposé on shifting cultural identities at Black and White Gallery's new project space in Williamsburg. Rooted in the Russian immigrant community of Brighton Beach, their four-part investigation asks how cultural heritage is re-shaped by mass movements and preserved through entrenched rituals. In a video shot at a local liquor store, a series of photos taken in a Russian language bookstore and another on the Brighton Beach boardwalk, the Bliumises found varying degrees of skepticism about the American immigration dream, assimilation and cultural preservation. An accompanying stack of their trademark foam book sculptures summarizes the exhibition nicely. With their collection of colorful dictionaries translating German, Russian and other languages into English, the Bliumises portray cultural memory and change as a dialectic process, like constantly flipping between sections of a multi-lingual dictionary.