Shulamit Gallery in Venice, which focuses on the Middle East and features Iranian and Israeli artists as well as L.A.-based Jewish artists, is debuting multimedia artist Jonas N.T. Becker in an exhibition called "Zol Zayn/What If?"
The gallery hosted a private dinner Thursday night in the artist's honor. As guests wandered in from the rain, Becker, looking a bit nervous but dapper in a velvet tuxedo jacket, gave a short talk about her work. Then she led the 20 or so guests -- including Craft & Folk Museum director Suzanne Isken, KCRW "Art Talk" host Edward Goldman, collectors and artists -- on a tour of the modern, four-story home-turned-gallery.
Shulamit Nazarian founded the space in late 2012. Its inaugural exhibition was a group show tied to the UCLA Fowler Museum's 2012 exhibition, which is still up, "Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews." Nazarian is the sister of SBE nightlife powerhouse Sam Nazarian, and on Thursday night, food was prepared by Dean Grill, executive chef of the SBE restaurant Gladstones.
Becker's show includes four striking and complex video installations that explore the ideas of utopia, dystopia and possibility ("Zol zayn" means "What if?"). Some of the works use crowd-sourced footage and commissioned images from around the world; others incorporate performance.
"The whole show is about the way that utopia functions for us," said Becker, who grew up in a Yiddish-communist environment in West Virginia. She now teaches at the Art Institute of California and Scripps College. "Utopia functions for us as much as dystopia. The way we know most utopian ideas is through their failure, and then their renewed aspirations -- that whole cycle."
The installation "Almost Always," inspired by a pop-science article from the '50s that Becker read about how to live forever, projects video snippets captured in different locations around the world, across all 24 time zones, from the two minutes before midnight on New Years Eve 2012. The video is projected onto a spinning globe the artist made, which hangs in a darkened gallery space. In stitching together familiar and intimate moments -- a couple clinking champagne glasses, a lonely dog barking, a festive crowd in New York's Time Square -- and playing with our perceptions of time progression, the piece is surprisingly powerful.
"End(s) of the World" shows rich, poetic images from far-flung locations that are named, in their different languages, "end of the world." Overall, the piece explores how we associate language with our experience of time and place. "Prodigal Sun," a montage of bleached-out images from video shot directly into the sun, nods to the Greek myth of Icarus.
Perhaps most moving, is "The Pile," a towering mound of red, stuffed Uglydoll-like creatures and other amorphous shapes wedged into a corner by the gallery's entrance. It asks a question that the artist posed to friends and strangers in both public and private places: "What one thing would make your life better?" Among the answers: "kindness," "a studio," "access to medical care," a tunnel from New York to L.A." Becker's answer? A child she could have with another woman.
Accompanying the on-site pile is a film Becker made showing her mother -- an elderly woman who now lives on the family's bicentennial farm in western Michigan -- sitting in a cornfield and hand-stitching, over a year and a half, the stuffed, felt objects in the pile itself. Each object reflects an individual answer to the question Becker posed.
"This was such a culminating and satisfying body of work for me. It brought together my political background of community organizing, we used a collective model of generating the videos, I got to work with my mom on a piece, which was awesome," Becker says. "I'm still emerging; but at some point, when you make art, you stop being surprised. But when I saw all the work together [at the gallery], I was surprised -- in a good way."