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The Infernal Dream of Mutt and Jeff

Zoe Beloff

January 28 - March 20, 2016

curated by Kaegan Sparks

 

Opening Reception: Sunday, February 7, 6-8PM

 

The exhibition is accompanied by three public events:

 

Sunday, February 28, 4PM: Anachronic Gestures:

A Conversation on Reenactment and Performing the Archive

with Johanna Burton, Mariam Ghani, and Kate Valk

Audio record is available!

 

Sunday, March 6, 4PM: Gigs/Gags: A Conversation on Slapstick, Humor, and Labor

with Zoe Beloff, Lawrence Mesich, and Alex Pittman

 

Friday, March 18, 7PM: The Dream Life of Objects:

A Talk by Amy Herzog on Zoe Beloff's The Infernal Dream of Mutt and Jeff

followed by a conversation with the artist

Zoe Beloff’s The Infernal Dream of Mutt and Jeff takes the form of a room-size installation simulating a mid-twentieth century studio for the production of worker instructional films. The installation reanimates a selection of archival materials, revealing intersections between industrial labor management, the cinematic apparatus, and utopian visions of social progress. Framed by the destitute but determined Mutt and Jeff, a hapless duo of early cartoon characters who go on strike and attempt to animate themselves, the project foregrounds humor and slapstick as means of resisting a regime of highly regulated gestures.

 

A central three-channel projection sets worker efficiency exercises against documentation of folie à deux (induced or contagious psychosis), exposing ideology at work through repetition and reenactment. This sets off a chain reaction across a series of instructional charts, photographic motion studies, and sculptural objects. What happens when motions become things and take on a life of their own? Beloff’s works mine the unconscious of Fordist mass production to stress erratic rhythms and conflicted affects that endure in contemporary paradigms of work.

 

The “productive” body is shadowed by its “unproductive” double in Beloff’s installation, which reflects on parallel histories of photography applied to parsing and prescribing movement. Through a montage of institutional films from the mid-twentieth century, the optimized workers of scientific management meet psychiatric patients whose gesticulations are rendered excessive and aberrant. To set these types into dialectical motion, Beloff interlaces the found footage with a series of reenactments by actress Kate Valk. Embodying both female subjects and male analysts in turn through lip-syncing and gestural mimicry, Valk’s performance underscores the camera’s role in both assembly line efficiency and gendered pathologies of hysteria. The film’s shifting tempos and reversals incite an anxious syncopation as a dream world of objects defies its ordered administration. Though it draws on the visual imaginary of an earlier industrial age, The Infernal Dream of Mutt and Jeff speaks as much to the Amazon warehouse workers who fulfill our on-demand orders as it does to the internalized self-management of twenty-first century service labor.

 

Beloff's essay on the project may be read here. A web-based version commissioned by Triple Canopy is available here.

Zoe Beloff works with a wide range of media including film, installation and drawing. Her most recent project is A World Redrawn: Eisenstein and Brecht in Hollywood, which was exhibited in 2015 at the James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Beloff's work has been featured in international exhibitions and screenings in venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Site Santa Fe, the M HKA museum in Antwerp, and the Pompidou Center in Paris. Additionally, she has collaborated with the Christine Burgin Gallery on a number of artist projects that include books and prints. She has been awarded fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. After completing her MA in painting and art history in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Beloff grew up, she received an MFA from Columbia University in Film. Currently she is a Professor in the Departments of Media Studies and Art at Queens College, CUNY.

 

Kaegan Sparks is a curator, researcher, and writer based in New York. She holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently a PhD student in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center, where her research centers around feminism, affect, and labor in video and performance work from the 1970s to today. She has worked in editorial and curatorial capacities at The Drawing Center, Slought Foundation, Dia:Beacon, ICA Philadelphia, The Kitchen, and Parkett. In 2014 she was a R&D Season Fellow at the New Museum, and since then she has contributed research, production, and editorial support on a series of critical anthologies co-published by the New Museum and MIT Press. Sparks is a Helena Rubinstein Fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program in 2015-16. In 2016-17 she will be a Mellon-James Fellow at the Graduate Center's James Gallery, where she will curate a group exhibition in the spring of 2017.

DOCUMENTATION