In his U.S. gallery debut, 40-year-old Belarusan filmmaker Oleg Tcherny, who lives in Paris and Venice, showed two video works that use an editing technique in which, according to the press release, successive frames are layered “from classic double exposure all the way to the superimposition of every frame in the film into one single image,” at times to stunning effect.
A wall-hung monitor in the front room screened L’après-midi près du tombeau de Falconetti (Afternoon Near the Tomb of Falconetti), 2011, a 10-minute black-and-white portrait of septuagenarian French filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub, who for decades made films with his late wife, Danièle Huillet. Straub, viewed from one side, sits on a grave in Paris’s Montmartre Cemetery. While the scenery remains clear, the image of Straub gradually blurs, indicating his slight movements as successive frames are laid over each other. When a guard instructs him to move (the conversation, in French, appears in English subtitles), he says fine, I’ll go sit on my wife’s grave.
Though touching, this work seemed at first a technological novelty compared to the absorbing 16-minute La Linea Generale (The General Line), 2010, which was inspired by the ideas of Galileo Galilei, Sergei Eisenstein and Giorgio Agamben. The video opens with a view of an industrial Venetian canal and a distant mountainous landscape going slowly by, shot from the upper deck of a ship. A few minutes in, the image begins to blur, the fuzziness gradually increasing, accompanied by ambient sounds of Venice. By the end, every frame in the work has been superimposed, creating an understatedly beautiful gray abstraction.
A man reads in subtitled voiceover from the Italian version of Galileo’s 1632 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, a book banned for contradicting Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmology. (The melodious reading alone is an unobtrusively splendid performance.) A character named Sagrado imagines a pen on a ship departing from Venice that would leave a running line recording its journey. He contrasts this image with that of an artist sketching while on board; the ship’s movement would not be discernible in the resulting drawing, Sagrado points out. Based on this analogy, he begins to argue that the Earth moves and that because we move with it, we can’t feel its motion. But he is cut off, as if by a censor, when he says: “Thus it is likewise true that being moved, the Earth . . . ”
The work shares its name with a film started by Eisenstein in 1926 (ironically also censored). Agamben, for his part, has asserted that Venice is the only European city that has not become a museum, and instead lives on as a specter. Tcherny’s overlaying technique is inspired by the combinatory ways Eisenstein constructed his shots, and it achieves a hallucinatory effect Eisenstein could only have dreamed of. As buildings slip in and out of focus, Venice becomes, as in Agamben’s view, truly ghostly.
While exiting the gallery, as one passed the Straub work with Agamben’s ghosts in mind, the portrait of the elderly filmmaker visiting his deceased wife took on a new and poignant dimension.
Photo: Oleg Tcherny: The General Line, 2010, video, 16 minutes; at Miguel Abreu.