Christian Jankowski’s latest solo show featured an artist who can’t see where he’s going, a newscaster who doesn’t know what she’s talking about, a group of critics who have been effectively silenced and a pissed-off viewer whose commentary has been elevated to the status of art. Evidently these works are intended to hold a mirror up to the contemporary art world; what remains unclear is whether they do so out of vanity or disdain.
The Eye of Dubai (2012) is a black-and-white video travelogue created by Jankowski on his first journey to the United Arab Emirates. During the trip, the artist remained blindfolded while his film crew-members of which were also blindfolded-followed him around Dubai. Only on the final night of his stay did the artist remove the blindfold, so as to view the film he had meanwhile helped create. It’s mildly amusing to watch Jankowski as he putters about town, dangling his arms over the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building, or pretending to make off with a gold chain from one of Dubai’s innumerable jewelry stores. The video also contains some nice visuals, including a rather stunning scene involving a falcon in the Arabian Desert. The biggest amusement, however, may be the physical comedy of Jankowski nearly getting catapulted off the back of a camel.
Shown on a television brashly suspended near the gallery’s entryway was the exhibition’s title piece, Discourse News (2012). The video features NY1 anchorwoman Annika Pergament delivering a teleprompted newscast filled with jargony statements by Jankowski and outside commentators about the critical interventions the artist’s work supposedly carries out. The video replicates the art world’s tendency to reduce a multitude of complex theoretical positions to a single, vaguely defined entity often referred to glibly as “the discourse on art.” Whether the work manages to point beyond the echo chamber of vapid artspeak-as Jankowski, in a line recited by the anchorwoman, claims is his intention-is another question.
What is certain is that constraining discourse from the start, as Jankowski has done in another work in the show, is not an effective strategy for achieving such an end. For Review (2012), the artist solicited roughly a hundred “reviews” of the not-yet-created artwork he would later fashion out of the commissioned texts. Authors were asked to insert their texts into empty bottles of their choosing, which Jankowski then sealed with wax. For the work’s installation, the bottles were scattered throughout the main gallery space. While stray words are visible through the molded glass, just about the only thing we’re able to learn from these writers is what a wide variety of booze they consume.
The voice that speaks with the most conviction among these works is that of an anonymous gallerygoer, whose entry in a previous show’s sign-in book Jankowski has re-created in neon lights. Perhaps intended to deflect anticipated criticism of the exhibition, the piece reads, “You’re Boring me to Death.”
Photo: Christian Jankowski: The Eye of Dubai, 2012, video, approx. 47 minutes; at Friedrich Petzel.