The films bring up another common issue, which is that privileging conceit over form doesn't always end well. Probably the best example of this comes from Take a Deep Breath, a purposefully badly acted, two-channel projection in the main exhibition space that explores, among other themes, the importance of artifice. In the case of production, Fast proves it does indeed matter; the canned lines forced a few AFC colleagues out of the film, and to what end? These same points are made within the narrative.
The work itself is a re-enactment of the Omer Fast film shoot Regarding the Pain of Others, which is itself a re-enactment: the scene involves the aftermath of suicide bomb explosion in Jerusalem. No actor on set accurately mimics the actual event; a young Albanian is fired because he opens his eyes while playing the dead bomber; his replacement is older than the actual victim and is cast aside; still, another actor receives the axe for refusing to take her shirt off. The cast convene at the film crew's lunch area, exchange a few heated words, and by the time a make-out scene comes to pass, the words "cut" are uttered offstage. The re-enactment of the re-enactment is staged, doubling the artifice.
I find these kinds of complexities needless, as they serve to underscore the already obvious point within the film: Veneers are not illuminated through excessive detail. Further, nobody remembers the same visual information. A police officer arrives on set to investigate a noise complaint and demonstrates the cyclical confusion when he asks for a description of the suspect and none of the crewmembers can agree on even the simplest of details. The fact that they'd filmed the suspect earlier in the day registered so little on the staff they all forgot they had taken a picture of the man.
Interestingly, earlier in that same scene, the officer mistakes the film's title Regarding the Pain of Others for Recording the Pain of Others, as if the latter level of accuracy was the desired goal of the director. In reality, the idea of record became so absurd that by the end of the film's full loop, any reflection was pointless. Even basic emotions such as compassion proved as mutable as the human body. An actress unresponsive to an older actor's advances eventually softens when she learns he's not just playing an amputee. Later, it becomes less clear whether his arm is actually missing as the incident turns out to be a scene in the film... and I immediately lose all sympathy.
Compassion also plays prominently in De Grote Boodschap, a 27-minute Dutch-language film. A single projection inside Postmaster's second gallery, the piece centers on a grandmother whose pharmaceutical addictions eventually prompt her death. In a haze of a cocktail of side effects, she repeatedly tells her maid a wartime story about how her father swallowing diamonds he'd placed inside a medicine bottle. Later, her mother and father would gleefully huddle in the bathroom waiting for him to shit out the sparkly stones.
Viewers never learn what happens to her father's diamonds and are left instead with seemingly countless references to shit: The old woman's stewardess neighbor is forced to clean up the shit of a passenger; the core sound of her grandson's beatboxing resembles farts; the grandmother's autopsy reveals just as many buttons and caps lodged in her digestive tract as her father had diamonds freckling his excrement. Whatever jewels are present in this film, they look far more like garbage than they do anything precious.
Speaking to this, none of the characters bother hiding their prejudices: The grandmother makes openly racist remarks to her black maid; the neighbors imagine they hear Arabic through the walls and immediately conclude the old woman has been robbed, even though it was just the TV. Only the maid offers up enough compassion to look past her employer's racist remarks, and note that the woman is interesting.
Like Take a Deep Breath, the film is chronologically unbound, the layered narrative often offering only empty truths. In this respect, the films feel a little empty as, naturally, prejudices and deception are far more significant than the bag of buttons the grandmother mistook as either diamonds or drugs. The effect is likely part of Fast's deeply bleak vision, which run counter to my own disposition. As he sees it, experience isn't larger than anyone—it's completely malleable, and therefore meaningless. In other words, as Fast profoundly demonstrates, even when art transcends its form, its value is still up for debate.
Omer Fast's three-part film and video installation Nostalgia is also currently on view at The Whitney Museum of Art through this Sunday.