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Art Review: When ‘Everything Fell Together’

Christian Jankowski’s Films on Exhibit at List Visual Arts Center

By Nikhil Nadkarni

“Everything Fell Together”

Christian Jankowski, artist

An exhibition of video and photography

At MIT List Visual Arts Center through Dec. 31

I’ve never been a huge fan of art films. The productions I’ve seen have often been too esoteric and too serious to enjoy. Thus, when I recently received a flyer in my mailbox inviting me to see a new video exhibition at List Visual Arts Center, I assumed it wouldn’t be too interesting. A visit to List, however, proved me completely wrong. Artist Christian Jankowski’s work is a captivating collection of videos and photography, varying from hilariously irreverent portrayals of art critics to brutal, surreal shorts, all displaying a keen sense of cleverness and creativity.

The exhibition is at List (first floor of the Media Lab building) through Dec. 31. Entitled “Everything Fell Together,” it consists of twelve works in separate galleries. Some rooms house projected videos, which range from a minute long to two hours, while others feature both video and still photography. Jankowksi, who is German-born and now living in New York, covers a wide variety of themes in his work. Some exhibits provoke questions about human nature while others capture him having absurd fun. In conjunction with the exhibit, Jankowski gave an entertaining Artist’s Talk on Oct. 15.

A number of his exhibited films capture the surreal. For example, in “16mm Mystery” (2004), we see a city that is silent and sterile. Jankowski, playing himself, then walks up to the roof of one of the buildings and sets up a 16 mm film projector. When he starts playing a film, we perceive it as the arrival of life and movement into an otherwise deserted city. However, the film appears to have supernatural powers, as a skyscraper in the background crumbles inexplicably 10 seconds after the filmstrip is begun.

Other exhibits of his are hilarious, especially those that make fun of haughty art criticism. A notable example is “Talk Athens” (2003), a video of him appearing on a Greek talk show with a few art critics and collectors. From the start of the show, Jankowski remains completely silent; this leads the guests to philosophically discuss what his silence represents. Their discussion grows deeper and deeper while Jankowski remains silent and walks around the room, striking peculiar poses. The video, showing us how art academics will talk a great deal about nothing, captures Jankowksi having fun with an absurd idea.

“Talk Athens” is also a good example of how Jankowski creatively toys with the method of production. Indeed, throughout the gallery and at the Artist’s Talk, I enjoyed his unique ways of making films; his creativity never ceased to amaze me. For example, for a film entitled “This I Played Tomorrow” (2003), he interviewed aspiring actors and actresses in an Italian studio district. He then took actual lines from their interviews and incorporated them into an hour-long drama. The interviews and the drama are played simultaneously beside each other, creating a fantastical juxtaposition of realism and fiction.

A few of his exhibits are quite serious. In “Shame Box” (1992), he invites passersby to write on a poster what they are ashamed of and then to sit on the street holding their poster. The experiment provokes the audience somewhat into wondering what any given person thinks about himself, but a lot of the video is bland, as no one of the street takes much interest in what these people are holding. This was one of the few exhibits I did not find too captivating.

By and large, however, Jankowski’s work is fascinating. At his talk, he showed additional films that regrettably aren’t on display at List. For example, the amusing “Puppet Conference” features many famous puppets, such as Grover from Sesame Street, convening to discuss the role of puppets in entertainment. Clearly, Jankowski has fun with what he does.

Indeed, he remains down-to-earth in spite of his success. He confessed at his talk that he often edits the night before the film’s opening. Equally amazing is the fact that he has never used a storyboard.

Jankowski also explained at his talk that he aims to make people unsure of how to react when they see his work. I found this to be true for me personally.

This aspect of his work is only one of the many reasons to see this amazing exhibition. Whether you have ten minutes to spare or four hours, you will thoroughly enjoy Jankowski’s work. I highly recommend dropping by List to see this fascinating exhibit, especially for those of you who have never been over to the gallery. You’ll be glad you went.

The List Visual Arts Center will also feature two film nights on Oct. 27 and Nov. 10, as well as upcoming gallery talks in the coming few months by Nicholas Baume, List Curator Bill Arning, and List Director Jane Farver.