Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012...10:00 pm

Going to the Guggenheim

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As a class we ventured into the city on a Friday afternoon to visit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to see the Rineke Dijkstra exhibit that we had been discussing in class.  A docent took us as a group around the museum through the temporary as well as permanent exhibits.  There was a great variety in styles of artwork: Dijkstra‘s blunt photography, Manet‘s fuzzy impressionist portraits, and Kandinsky‘s early non-objective paintings.  After the guided tour, we were free to go exploring on our own and were each assigned different floors of the Dijkstra exhibit.  The Krazyhouse, a video displayed on the fourth floor of her exhibit and on the seventh floor of the overall museum, captured our attention as it differed from her stagnant photographs and really engaged the viewer through movement and sound.

The Krazyhouse

Close your eyes.  You’re walking from a brightly lit room into a narrow passage leading you to a large box-of-a-room.  There is little light.  Each of the four walls sports a white screen and each screen has a designated projector hanging from the ceiling.  One at a time, never overlapping, the screens light up with the image of a lone person.  You can’t take your eyes off of that one person; there is no where else to look.  It’s flesh on white.  No where to hide.  No where to disguise your awkwardness.  Watch as the figure begins to dance to the music.  Judge them.  See the fear in their eyes.  Or the complete freedom they feel.  This is The Krazyhouse.

Tayler’s Experience at The Krazyhouse

One of the most fascinating aspects of Rineke Dijkstra’s seventh floor exhibit was the video section, which was an alternative to her many photos. However, there was still a fundamental similarity between the video and much of her photos – the people were set before a plain background. In the video, the people would dance and, if they knew the song, lip-sync to the words as well. One video that struck me in particular was a fairly young African American girl dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” At first, the girl was understandably somewhat tense and seemed uncomfortable and self-conscious. However, it was fascinating to watch her lose her inhibitions and really start to dance and grow comfortable with the music and herself. By the end of the song, she has essentially transformed from the nervous girl at the beginning to someone who has immersed herself in the song. As for Dijkstra’s reason for the videos – my feeling is that she wants to capture the moment when a person is off-guard. After all, each video is unscripted and leaves the subject to his or her own devices. But the point of this video is that the girl is finally enjoying herself and allowing herself to be carried away by the music, which is a feeling that we all want to have, no?

Cheyn’s Experience at The Krazyhouse


The real issue I have trying to describe Dijkstra’s video work is that there is so little to describe. First the medium is by definition shifting, a set of interrelated images in which lines and shapes and balance don’t necessarily remain the same. Thus, trying to describe the Krazyhouse series was a bit more of a mathematical exercise. Essentially, I tried to take a rough mental snapshot, an “average,” of these moving pictures and to describe composition based on that average. I argued with myself over this: trying to determine a work’s artistic foundation based on a tremendously subjective mental picture that did not exist seemed something of a bad idea.

(Other, less noble enterprises were begun. I essentially attempted to throw every vocabulary word I have learned in the last three weeks together, separated only by a thin web of gibberish and commas. It did not work. Example: “Muted backgrounds lend uniformity of color, creating symmetry that reinforces an indelible gestalt.”)

Then it hit me. The point of the Krazyhouse series, which was really just the exhibit writ large, was this removal of context. Art criticism thrives on context, on comparison, on the teasing out of meaning from clues large and small. Yet Dijkstra does not give us clues: we know nothing about the Krazyhouse videos other than that they were filmed outside of a club in England, a detail which seems to have been included not so that the viewer might contextualize the scene but so that the work as a whole could have some sort of identifiable label. The whole of Dijkstra’s work boils down to this, to featureless backgrounds and scant biographical detail.

What Dijkstra is trying to do is break down the wall between viewer and viewed. We are accustomed to looking at art, and looking at people we don’t know in general, through a maze of preconceptions. Dijkstra forces us to shed all these layers, with the end result that viewers watching feel as vulnerable as the teenage dancers they watch. Not because of pity (for this particular girl is a uniquely inept dancer), not because of nostalgia, but because we the audience have never been made to look at someone with nowhere else to focus and nothing else to dwell on.

Dijkstra’s gift is her ability to strip her audience barer than her subjects.

Gaby’s Experience at The Krazyhouse

Every once in a while, when we think no one is watching, the front we put up to fit in with society drops. Rineke Dijkstra wanted to capture that moment when a person shows his or her true self. One of the ways that she captured that moment was to have someone pick a song of their choice and dance to it. They were then put in front of a white background and told to dance. As these people were dancing, we saw their social facade slip away, and their true natures come to light. On the seventh floor of the Guggenheim Museum, one of these people was a boy, who looked like the typical dark, moody teenage boy. He had the cliché dark hoodie, long hair and serious expression. When the rock music started, he simply played the air guitar along with the music. It wasn’t until the lyrics started that we saw his personality peek through. Suddenly, he was flinging his head back and forth, up and down and around, otherwise known as “moshing.” As the music continued, he got more and more into it, even going so far as to get on his knees. But it was the end, when the music stopped, that made the entire experiment worth it. For a few seconds, he just sat on his knees in silence, his face hidden behind his hair. Then he looked up and flashed a shockingly genuine sweet smile. In three minutes, this boy went from playing the part of an average teenager, to showing a hint of his real self. And Rineke Dijkstra caught it all on film.

Dimitri’s Experience at The Krazyhouse

Dijkstra’s final “Krazyhouse” dancer is a definite breath of fresh air from the previous four. The 20 – something year old blonde “Nicky” is no brash flaunter like some of her predecessors, and neither does she radiate as much confidence or excitement with her appearance or movements as others had. Like a kind of apathetic belly-dancer, arms lazily wave and wrap around the head and torso and hips gently thrust from side to side to the resounding, unwinding tune (Reflekt’s “Need to Feel Loved”, Adam K & Soha Vocal Mix). Her presentation is not so much exhibitionist, but more introverted. The movements are fluid yet cautious, like absent-mindedly humming to oneself. It’s both intoxicated and intoxicating, exciting and inviting.


Introduction and blog compilation done by Marina B. Nebro 

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