What do the Neanderthals have in common with an early 20th-century American industrialist? What are the connections between Nigerian cinema and a sprawling mansion comprising four centuries of architectural styles? These are some of the elements—physical and conceptual—that make up Catherine Sullivan’s new film project making its world premiere August 23 (beginning at 5 pm) through November 18 in the Walker Art Center exhibition
Catherine Sullivan: Triangle of Need
. In the multichannel video installation Triangle of Need, Sullivan orchestrates complex sets of ideas and participants to weave a nuanced story about evolution, class, wealth and poverty, and the inequalities and injustices in our global economy. The project is co-commissioned by the Walker, A Foundation (Liverpool), and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (Miami), and will be presented in Liverpool (October 2007) and Miami (December 2007). The Minneapolis presentation is organized by Walker visual arts curator Doryun Chong.
A 2007 artist-in-residence at the Walker, Sullivan was trained in both visual and performing arts, and the works she creates are truly hybrid, freely crossing boundaries and mixing disciplines. She has explored different theatrical and performative conventions, from the popular stage play and musical to the historical drama, from postmodern dance to Fluxus performance. In Triangle of Need, these intersections are abundantly evident.
The story in Sullivan’s video installation unfolds in two main locations: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami and a nondescript apartment in “an American city.” Vizcaya is the former estate of American industrialist James Deering, vice president and heir to the agricultural trust International Harvester. He built Vizcaya in the 1910s on the Bay of Biscayne, and the interior and exterior decors of the estate span architectural history, from Renaissance to baroque rococo to neoclassical, as if generations of a family lived there continuously. If Miami was the locus of Deering’s historical fantasies and architectures of leisure, Chicago, the home of his factory, was the location of his industrial production and labor mobilization. In these two starkly contrasting sites, Sullivan situates what she calls “vestigial narratives,” one involving a wealthy industrialist trying to force the last remaining members of a hominid species to reproduce, and the second, a series of reconstructions of scenes from the catalogue of Pathescope Films, the company from which Deering ordered silent film reels for screening at Vizcaya.
During Sullivan’s Minneapolis residency, she partnered with local choreographer Dylan Skybrook and dancers Justin Jones and Kristin Van Loon to develop specific movements of the imagined species, which were based on research on Neanderthal physiognomy. Furthering the exploration of the body’s ability to extend beyond its erect orientation and bipedal movement, Sullivan also engaged Minneapolis figure skater Rohene Ward, with whom she designed and filmed a series of spins. Concurrently, Sean Griffin, a Los Angeles–based composer and the artist’s frequent collaborator, invented a complex performative language called Mousterian taken from theories of Neanderthal speech. For this work, he also created an original score for 11 instruments, combining scientific reconstructions of various sources (prehistoric flutes, early analog electronics) with early 20th-century American parlor music and sacred music by 17th-century composer Joachim Neander, after whom the Neanderthal is named.
Also collaborating on the project is Nigerian actor/director Kunle Afolayan, who provides a counterpoint to Sullivan’s direction and style with his commercially based practice. Sullivan’s and Afolayan’s footage of the same script is intercut and interspersed, creating a structure that questions its own operation. Sullivan describes her approach as “agitating the content from within” the cinematic structure she has set up. Triangle of Need—her most ambitious project to date—promises to give viewers a series of immersive and stimulating image and sound environments. But at the same time, this complex technique of narration is, to borrow the artist’s words again, a willfully “imperfect apparatus” for understanding the world and its historical and social contingencies.
Target Free Thursday Nights
Thursday, September 13
Artist Talk: Catherine Sullivan, Dylan Skybrook, and Sean Griffin
Cinema, 7 pm
Free tickets available at the Bazinet Garden Lobby desk from 6 pm
Catherine Sullivan is best known for her video work that explores multiple themes with historic and cultural references. Her newest project, Triangle of Need, continues this practice in a multichannel video installation that combines elements as seemingly disparate as figure-skating, prehistoric communication, and e-mail scams into a work that investigates evolution, wealth, poverty and our global economy. For this talk, Sullivan and her collaborators, Minneapolis-based dancer/choreographer Dylan Skybrook and Los Angeles-based composer Sean Griffin, discuss their working process and how they turned a multitude of concepts into a successfully integrated piece. Moderated by exhibition curator Doryun Chong.
Target Free Thursday Nights sponsored by Target.
All tours free with gallery admission; Free First Saturday and Thursday night tours are free.
Thursday, August 23, 6 pm
Friday, August 24, 6 pm
Friday, August 31, 1 and 6 pm
Thursday, September 13, 6 pm
Friday, September 21, 6 pm
Friday, September 28, 6 pm
Friday, October 5, 6 pm
Thursday, October 18, 1 pm
Friday, October 19, 1 pm
Thursday, October 25, 1 pm
Friday, November 2, 1 pm
Thursday, November 8, 1 pm
Sunday, November 18, 12 noon