Art review: Stanya Kahn at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
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At Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, three potent videos by Stanya Kahn deliver more tragedy and comedy than can be seen in most multiplexes on any given day. Think of the L.A. artist’s first solo show (after parting company with her collaborative partner, Harry Dodge) as a one-woman film festival. Each of its 30- to 40-minute videos is its own riveting journey into the suffering and bravery of three unsentimental women.
‘It’s Cool, I’m Good’ steals the show. Projected on a wall in a large, darkened gallery, the longest of the three videos features Kahn. Her head, hands and feet wrapped in bandages, she lies in bed, talks on the phone, sits on the beach, stumbles around town on crutches, eats fast food, rides a dirt bike through the desert and generally behaves as if her injuries don’t deserve a second thought.
Her character talks a lot. Sometimes she converses with passersby. At others she addresses the camera as if she grew up on YouTube. But most of the time she just talks, casually and unself-consciously, as if she were her own audience and that was more than enough.
Her tone is bemused and her attitude open. Her topics vary from horrible jokes to environmental degradation, and include discussions of the adaptability of various species of animals. Neither naive nor jaded, Kahn’s character comes somewhere between. She seems reasonable.
Sometimes you sense that her physical traumas have made her wise. At others she acts as if she’s on autopilot or cruise control, stuck at one setting because it’s too painful to risky anything more.
As an artist, Kahn mixes humor and horror with the best of them, blending beauty and banality like nobody’s business.
Her other two videos, ‘Sandra’ and ‘Kathy,’ are more straightforward in their storytelling. In them, Kahn’s mother and Kahn’s best friend offer thoughtful reflections on the defining moments of their lives. Both deliver captivating anecdotes and it’s easy to see who and what inspires Kahn. But the documentary format, even with the abrupt cuts Kahn favors, does not give her enough room to strut her idiosyncratic stuff, which takes far more compelling shape in ‘It’s Cool, I’m Good.’
– David Pagel
Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through April 24. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.vielmetter.com
Film stills: ‘It’s Cool, I’m Good’ (top) and ‘You’re OK, I’m Not So Hot’, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.