Renée Green’s latest exhibition, “Sigetics,” at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, is an epic journey through several works in her career, combining newly created prints and banners with a three-channel film installation from 2009, Endless Dreams and Water Between, and reconstituted earlier videos.
This is Green’s first commercial gallery exhibition in New York in ten years, though she exhibits extensively in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia, and elsewhere in the U.S.
INSTALLATION VIEW COURTESY ELIZABETH DEE GALLERY.
LORRAINE CWELICH: What were the central themes you explored in this work?
RENÉE GREEN: I was interested in thinking about islands; that was my starting point. I wanted to think about them from the perspective of people who live on them but do not necessarily romanticize them in the ways that islands are often thought of; the tension between the imagined “elsewhere” and ways of communicating changes that have taken place in relation to different kinds of communication technology.
CWELICH: How were the works that are on the individual DVD players reconstituted from your earlier works?
GREEN: They are called The Early Video Work. I wanted to think about these works in relation to some of the other questions that emerged in the more recent work. I also wanted to return to some of those earlier ideas and show how they are linked through time. Some are complete videos and others are excerpts from digital Import/Export Funk Office, from 1992. It’s been a continuation of thinking about distance and translation.
CWELICH: It’s been a decade since you have exhibited in a gallery in New York.
GREEN: I’ve been able to do more ambitious projects outside of New York. Most of the projects take a number of years to develop and I’ll be thinking about the location or maybe I have already traveled there.
CWELICH: How does traveling impact your observations on distance and communication? Do you reside in the various locations as you create the works, or just visit to install them?
GREEN: The amount of the engagement in a particular location is similar to if you were a novelist and were imagining a place, thinking about depicting wherever you are. I usually return a lot to the places, mentally or physically. I’ve just been invited to work on a piece in Finland. I’ve been there twice and am still developing the ideas. Some of them were about things I was already interested in—mythic tales and geographical locations. That’s why the idea of sigetics and compression are so important for me in terms of coming back to New York, which is my home. Sigetics refers to what’s not in the exhibition. It’s always as if I’m translating themes about my experiences elsewhere that are portable.
CWELICH: One of the framed prints outlines a proposition for the September Institute. What is the September Institute?
GREEN: The September Institute is a non-utopian vortex of thinkers and artists that gather each September in the island of Majorca. There’s a lot more supposed connectivity online but there also seems to be a dwindling of actual content and emotional engagement in terms of people being able to be with each other and spend time together.
CWELICH: One of the three short films which comprise Endless Dreams and Water Between is titled Excess. It depicts stacks of books, maps and pages from notebooks, which contain outlines. How were the authors of the books—for instance, D.H. Lawrence, Langston Hughes, George Sands—selected?
GREEN: They were source material for the fictional correspondence I wrote in the film. The script and some of the notebook pages that appear in the film are printed in the exhibition’s book and the show’s iPad in the animation activation room, which is located at the front of the gallery and which is the index to the show. There are a lot of translations of things from formats that were present in different times and translated into other formats for the show.
CWELICH: Can you discuss the lists of names that appear on the vertical banners?
GREEN: The colors used, the yellow and green, are recognized as Brazilian colors. The part of a face is a Brazilian singer. The lists of names are linked in different ways to popular culture and intersect with the African diaspora movement, but through different countries. On the iPad is the audio track of a WFMU radio interview with a Brazilian death-metal band.
CWELICH: Is that the band your brother is the lead singer of?
GREEN: Yes, it’s called Sepultura. I wanted the name of the band to be in conjunction with all those names and the relations between the different forms, whether music or films or individuals listed. Most are music-related references or popular-culture icons, like Pele, for example, or Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. I think there are different kinds of associations that can be made about the esthetic forms that link all of them together. I wanted to juxtapose them because of the rise of interest in tropicalia in recent years in the arts.
CWELICH: What are the links between the notions of Brazil and the African diaspora movement, and the islands in the films?
GREEN: They all have to do with what might be imagined. What’s so interesting about “elsewhere?” About Brazil? Or California? How Brazil was thought about as an island at one time, as well as California. The kind of projections made about people inhabiting these places, especially warm places, as exciting and fun. It’s kind of a utopian idea, but it is not actually. They have a lot more dimensions than that.
CWELICH: Which is interesting because the September Institute proposition specifically states that it is non-utopian.
GREEN: It’s more of a nexus.
“Sigetics” is at Elizabeth Dee Gallery through May 21.