“Kissing Circles,” Mounir Fatmi’s latest exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, consists of altered photographs, animated video projections, custom metal saw blades, and abstract images made out of coaxial cables. It all seems a bit random at first, but the puzzle pieces eventually come together, resulting in an intriguing dissection of Hollywood cinema as a nexus of romance and mechanization.
The most compelling element is a sequence of stills of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca." They are dancing, inclining their heads toward each other, about to kiss. Superimposed on these images are various geometric diagrams of circles and lines annotated with letters and numbers. Fatmi was inspired by “The Kissing Precise,” a poem by Frederick Soddy that limns the points at which circles “kiss,” or touch one another in a Cartesian geometric theorem. The diagrams do seem to follow the heads of Bogey and Bergman toward the inevitable consummation, progressing from relative chaos to a kind of balance where their eyes lock: a geometry of love.
This conceit suggests — surprise, surprise — a certain predictability in cinematic romance. As much as it tugs at our heartstrings, it’s still a calculated formula. Fatmi emphasizes this aspect in a large video projection of animated gears and other machine parts endlessly turning. The piece is a homage to Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times,” in which the star clowned (and lamented) the dehumanization of factory labor. Adding another layer of complexity, many of the gears are decorated with Arabic calligraphy. It seems like a non sequitur until we remember that “Casablanca” takes place in Morocco. The exotic Arabic world is the silent backdrop for “the problems of three little people” that transfix us so.
Yet with Fatmi’s large metal saw blades riddled with calligraphic cutouts, perhaps it is silent no longer. Three-dimensional versions of the gears in the animation, they’re beautiful and sinister and suggest an ideological violence. You certainly don’t want these circles to kiss. Still, displayed across from the video in vitrines, they are also reminiscent of film projectors. These circles may cut, but they also evoke the mechanism by which fantasies unfold.
Fatmi goes perhaps one step too far with the show’s fourth component: compositions of circles made from coaxial cables. Although lovely, they feel a bit tangential. Still, the show smartly unearths the dual nature of cinema — and by extension, media culture —how it simultaneously circumscribes and enables almost everything we feel.
-- Sharon Mizota
Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., B1, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through May 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.shoshanawayne.com