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Afar by Janet Biggs – Of Camels and Men

avril 27, 2017

Opening tonight at Cristin Tierney Gallery

Endurance, Janet Biggs and Regina José Galindo

Until May 27, 2017

Cristin Tierney Gallery is pleased to present Endurance, a black box exhibition featuring video works by Janet Biggs and Regina José Galindo. The exhibition opens Thursday, April 27th with a reception from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, and continues through Saturday, May 27th. Janet Biggs will be present at the reception.

Of Camels and Men

 

« Anything that is too safe is not action »

Elizabeth Streb

 

A clap of thunder

 

Janet Biggs’ most recent video (Afar, 2016), a triptych of impeccably rhythmed images produced by the SCAD Museum of Art, commences with a clap of thunder. But nothing in her video is unequivocal; the thunderclap comes not from the sky but from the earth. An arid land with an open gash recalling a female sex – we are in Afar, in a triangular territory adjoining Djibouti, Ethiopia and Eritrea, in the midst of the East African Rift, where tectonic plates float and drift above a dense sea of volcanic magma; shifting and settling, they may someday generate a new ocean ridge. Thunder rumbles from deep inside the earth – or could it be gunshots? In the Afar Triangle, the nomadic people travel with their weapons, and their camels – attentive, impassive companions, conscious of the slow swaying of their vital rhythm and of their fascinating beauty, which the artist poetically conveys to us.

In Djibouti, Janet Biggs was nearly detained and banned from further travel. There, she saw a young girl trapped in a police car, throwing herself against the vehicle’s screen of metal bars, then being beaten by police before disappearing from her field of vision. Another clap of thunder.

The Great Rift Valley extends over 6,000 kilometres from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to Uganda, where the earth’s crust has thinned along its surface, forming faults, and the continental lithosphere stretches and starts to extend. As it fractures, the surface gradually collapses and the rift forms, becoming a site of intense volcanic and seismic activity.

 

The art of falling

So what did Janet Biggs do? She went into action using her own weapons. She had intended to film the incredible, breathtaking Dallol volcano in extreme climatic conditions (Janet Biggs has always been attracted to extremes). But she realized that in order to create art from what she had just seen, she would have to point her camera in another direction. Since she could not film the girl, what could she do? How could she bear witness? “I replicated the grill and we worked on the choreography, which resulted in the dancers hurling themselves against it. … I needed to remember that and to document it in my way. This was when it stopped being a documentary and became an artwork.”

Thanks to this research, Afar is perhaps one of the most accomplished of Janet Biggs’ videos; in any case, of all her works, her political commitment to freedom is most profound here, and her gaze most nuanced. No sensationalism, although the location – the Afar Triangle – with its landscapes and skies, its geology and climate, its customs and traditions, could easily arouse and nourish a taste for spectacle. On the contrary, Afar speaks of men and women, of looks and thoughts. Janet Biggs in no way yields to the temptation of the “sensational.”

To bear witness, the artist turned to Elizabeth Streb, the experimental choreographer who is fascinated with falling – falling as a metaphor for human destiny – and focuses much of her work on mastering gravity. Falling as we dance, falling as we live life. Like Janet Biggs, Elizabeth Streb has cultivated an interest in extremes: in the choreographer’s case, seeking those of the body, which Streb calls “extreme action.”

In order to share her sensations with the utmost accuracy, Janet Biggs transformed her emotion into action; she transformed what she saw – the beaten girl – into choreography by Elizabeth Streb. By “acting” in this way, Biggs introduced into her images the perfect conveyer of emotion, which unfailingly delivers its images to spectators in full light. Falling, though not explicitly shown in the video, is present throughout, a throbbing, persistent threat. Falling into the depths of the earth?

 

Read the text by Barbara Polla, here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Janet Biggs permalink
    avril 27, 2017 1:33

    Thank you!!!!!!!! You are brilliant and I’m so proud that you wrote about this piece!!!!!

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