News From Abroad, represents three film and video works that have as their central theme the state of being elsewhere and the complicated accounts of leaving a home, whether by evacuation, immigration, exile or wanderlust, in one place to create it in another.
The lead character in Pablo Pijnappel’s video projection, Andrew Reid, is the artist’s stepfather. The work consists of two parallel narratives, in which fact and fiction are slowly interwoven. The backbone of the film is the regular appearance of titles, the English translations of ongoing telephone conversations, in Portuguese, between the artist and Reid regarding immanent plans to meet in Europe where Pijnappel intends to film Andrew for his thesis project. Pijnappel employs a current artistic practice, the appropriation of existing film fragments of classic movies to illustrate the narrated life story of his illustrious stepfather, but samples transitional shots instead of the familiar scenes. The combination of the highly improbable, and at times, totally hilarious biographical facts that we are presented with, and the montage of existing film footage, is irresistible. The tension in the two narrative strands mounts gradually in equal portions: the more Andrew’s life story becomes fantastic and improbable, the shakier his telephone story gets.
Jenny Perlin’s 16mm black and white animated film, Rorschach, uses a laborious and intensive process of drawing to create a cyclical narrative of images and texts motivated by considerations of exile and displacement. A Rorschach test, judged poorly, can have terrible results, affecting a psychological assessment and the course someone’s life might take. The banalities of an immigration document can mean whether or not a person can stay in or leave a country that has become a new home. And even the most banal of texts, a fortune cookie, could be a motivation for someone to make life-changing decisions. Rorschach ends with a fanfare of fortunes, followed by a sequence of receipt animations, documents of a specific life in a specific place between the now-historic months of September 2001 and December 2001, the end of a year we wish had not occurred, which imposed such drastic changes on mobility and civil liberties throughout the world.
Madeline Djerejian’s silent video, The Last of Beirut, weaves together text and image to construct a contemplative vision of displacement and loss on the eve of civil war in Lebanon in 1975. Drawing upon still photographs and the recollections of family, friends and acquaintances, Madeline Djerejian creates a moving account of events leading up to the evacuation from Beirut of the expatriate community. The Last of Beirut, a confabulation of voices that alternate between that of children and parents, contrasts the naïve, often reckless response of youth to its surroundings with the anxiety of parenting in a country moving rapidly towards self-destruction. The images, which depict the days leading up to evacuation, are presented both in whole and in detail. The use of detail and close-cropped framing emphasizes the fragmentary, subjective nature of recollection and memory. Through the use of shifting frames and points of view, narrative halt and stillness, Djerejian suggests that attentive looking and close reading are a metaphor for the necessity of attending to every detail – as one does when one is in danger, under threat, or plagued with anxieties.