At the beginning of Rosa Aiello’s 10-minute video A River in It (2015), a fire flickers in the distance and a woman’s voice (artist Olga Pedan) beckons. The view zooms to the center of the consuming blaze, then the cycle starts all over again. At this point, two things become apparent: the image is an animation, and the voiceover script is based on Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson’s 1971 film Swamp.
Aiello’s piece is a sort of restaging of the Conceptual art work for the post-Internet age. In the original (on view now in “All the World’s Futures” at the 56th Venice Biennale), Holt filmed a New Jersey swamp, eye trained on the camera’s viewfinder, as Smithson led her through the tall grass by verbal instruction. The resulting work is notable for the charged dynamic of trust and domination between the artists, who were married at the time. Aiello’s substitution of the fire for the swamp leaves room for various interpretations—spiritual cleansing? immolation?—while the female voiceover, accompanied by a clearly synthesized track of heavy breathing, leads us to wonder: Is the voice in our own head?
Pictured: Installation view of Rosa Aiello’s video A River In It, 2015, video, 10 min. 15 sec.; at Eli Ping Frances Perkins, New York.