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Consumerism's influence on the culture it cannibalizes is less opaquely explored in Thom Andersen's twin elegies for Los Angeles, also screening in the Biennial: the Chris Marker-esque architectural moving image museum Los Angeles Plays Itself and its brilliantly billboard-minded epilogue, Get Out of the Car. In the former, Andersen narrates an alternate history of the Southern California city atop scenes from films that index both iconic and anonymous buildings and neighborhoods, some of which have since disappeared. The latter study is by contrast less funereal but in some ways more urgent, observing a present disintegrating into past through a wordless collage of signs, posters, graffiti, and other public visual detritus that depict the flux of popular and minority taste. Andersen will discuss these films with critic J. Hoberman on April 8th, and is additionally bringing along a program of shorts from LA's bygone eras.
Yet another loosely interrelated group of screenings positions the artist not only as curator of municipal or cultural histories but of their own achievements, and the impact of those on their personal lives. WILDNESS, which screens on May 13th with director Wu Tsang, confuses documentary with lyrical apotheosis to illuminate the development of an LGBT artspace/support group/bar in Los Angeles to which the filmmaker contributed. Photographer Moyra Davey, conversing with writer Lynne Tillman on April 15th, is decidedly more hermetic in Les Goddesses, a video scrapbook of her early material (which we see her leafing through unceremoniously) with oral ruminations on Mary Wollstonecraft, Goethe, Freud, and to what extent an artwork is the product of an individual or a familial station. As much of the soundtrack is a recitation of an essay on literature Davey previously published, the film represents a unique and often uncomfortable grafting of rhetorical and sensual pasts onto their ultimately biological heritage.
In addition to rifling through old snapshots, Davey also wanders around her New York studio through most of Les Goddesses, organizing the kitchen, searching through files, and hypnotizing us by reflecting the light from a small lamp off of snow falling outside her window. There's little about the mechanics of her media methodology—to say nothing of its inspiration—that isn't transparent, which underscores the Biennial's respect for and perhaps adulation of the tedious process of jettisoning creative impulses.
But the artist, once un-petaled, is not without his or her smirking dignity. Saluting the shockingly structuralist side of George Kuchar, the Whitney will screen a sample of the late underground filmmaker's in-camera tour-de-force Weather Diaries, as well as the distantly western-like AVID transition handbook Chigger Country. The former, wherein Kuchar trembles before an onslaught of tornado warnings and monsoons from within the compromised comfort of an Oklahoma motel, is at times noirishly self-tortured—he's haunted throughout, and irrelevantly, by recollections of an older, buxom, dark-haired woman—and mind-ticklingly fractured. Kuchar represents weather patterns the way plaid textiles do primary colors; he often punctuates footage of cataclysmic storms with clear-skied punch-ins from hours later. This gloriously low-res homage to the firmament's desultoriness encapsulates not only the manner in which Oklahoma residents are at the mercy of their meteorologists, but the Whitney Biennial's tendentious eating of its own curatorial borders.