23 Sep, 2009

Rosalind Nashashibi and the film as art

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The days when artists ranged between sculpture, video and paint may be over. Committing to a specific medium reaps greater rewards – as Nashashibi’s new show reveals

Rosalind Nashashibi’s exhibition at the ICA, London, is an insight into how art is progressing beyond what has been called the “post-medium condition”. A decade ago, younger artists seemed to have abandoned any sense of media and materials as ends in themselves. The condition of painting was widely held to be terminal: at best it had become one medium among many. But it wasn’t only painting that seemed to be disappearing into the general phenomenon called “art”. If an artist could use anything – make a video in the morning, a conceptual artwork in the afternoon and commission some spot paintings over the phone later on – then it no longer made sense to think of, say, photography as a specific art form with its own criteria of value.

This no longer seems to be an accurate description of the newest art. One way and another, artists are taking a passionate interest in the physical incarnations of work. The freedom of the 1990s still flourishes, but it’s also true that artists tend to fall in love with specific stuffs – such as film.

Nashashibi uses film – real film, 16mm celluloid ribbons spooling in hot projectors with a whirr and a chatter of clicking noises. It’s nostalgic and reassuringly carnal to sit near her sputtering visual motion machines in darkened rooms that awaken memories of arthouse cinemas – especially as her films, such as The Prisoner (2008) with its homage to the French cinéaste Chantal Akerman, refer constantly to the history of art cinema, art as cinema, cinema as art.

It would make no sense at all to see Nashashibi as an artist who “uses film” as if it were interchangeable with half a dozen other “practices”. She makes films, and her subjects are film and the nature of cinematic narrative. There’s a loyalty to materials here that I admire. And with The Prisoner, she has made a cunning fable of fetishism and obsession, and the personification of the camera as an eye.

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