Storytelling in Isolation: Momentum’s Online Exhibition ‘COVIDecameron’

by Elizabeth Schippers // May 26, 2020

Nine minutes of destruction flashes across my laptop screen. Houses are shaking, entire cityscapes are engulfed first in flames, then in floods. There are falling buildings, falling people, falling bridges, highways, cars. Tornadoes sweep streets clean and explosions blast debris through the air. Everywhere is chaos, and we are all doomed.

It is with this piece—a video collage from clips of popular movies called ‘Doomed’ (2007) by Tracey Moffatt & Gary Hillberg—that MOMENTUM opens their new exhibition, ‘COVIDecameron’. In celebration of their 10th birthday, MOMENTUM has gathered 25 video works from its collection, put in a new perspective in light of the current global pandemic. The exhibition, curated by Rachel Rits-Volloch and Emilio Rapanà, brings together 19 artists who have previously entrusted their works to them and invites the public to revisit these pieces on their website, where you can now see the exhibition from your home.

Tracey Moffatt & Gary Hillberg: ‘Doomed,’ 2007, Video, 9 min 21 sec // Courtesy of MOMENTUM

‘COVIDecameron’ takes its name from the literary work ‘The Decameron,’ written by Giovanni Boccaccio, which describes a group of inhabitants of Florence who flee the plague-ridden city and retreat to the countryside, where they share stories of times past and times ahead. Years and years later, we find ourselves in a very similar situation. With borders still closed, we are encouraged to find new ways to bring the outside world to us. It is with Boccaccio’s storytellers in mind that MOMENTUM gathers its own group of storytellers from its archives: artists from all over the world, brought together not in the countryside but in the large, open plains of the world wide web. These artists address a wide range of topics, which the curators have related to our life in the time of Corona. The selection of time-based works in the exhibition is presented as a reflection on the subjective human experience of living in a world that is changing at an incredibly high speed. Together, these works invite the public to come together to find recognition in a world in transition.

Tracey Moffatt was the first artist to be included in the MOMENTUM collection in 2010. In ‘Doomed,’ Moffatt showcases Hollywood’s obsession with disaster by means of cut-and-paste editing techniques that combine a variety of cinematic references for each scene. A flood washes over the city. Then another city. Then the Titanic slowly sinks. This fragmented way of storytelling highlights the fixation we have with death and destruction, the desire to watch these scenes over and over again in various formats, to see houses shake and people hanging off the edge of cliffs. Important to note, here, is that the title ‘Doomed’ implies the narrow balancing point between safety and destruction. It implies the not-yet-destroyed and therefore there is a sliver of hope that something or someone can pull us out, bring us back to stable ground. With the world around us falling apart bit by bit and the future hazy and uncertain, we too feel doomed. That is to say, we too still hope.

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Gülsün Karamustafa: ‘Personal Time Quartet,’ 2000, Video, 2 min 39 sec, single channel version of 4-channel video installation on loop // Courtesy of MOMENTUM

Another facet of our lives in the global pandemic is represented by ‘Personal Time Quartet’ (2000), created by Gülsün Karamustafa. Born in Ankara, Turkey, Karamustafa now lives and works in Istanbul and is recognised as being at the forefront of the contemporary art world in Turkey. After being convicted for aiding a political fugitive, she was denied a passport for 16 years until the mid-80s and therefore could not leave the country. Locked in this enforced isolation, her work examined her own situation and context. Interior migration and the development of identity within the cultural and political context of Turkey are central to this examination. ‘Personal Time Quartet’ (2000) presents four channels of ever-repeating motion and was shot in Karamustafa’s own apartment. A video screen placed in four different rooms shows a young girl engaged in various domestic activities. One screen shows her painting and repainting her nails, another one shows her folding laundry, a third one shows her jumping a rope and yet another presents the girl opening and closing cupboards. Though it was intended as a portrait of the artist’s personal biography as it intersects with the history of her country, the work is recontextualised in this exhibition as representative of our own isolation, the repeating motions echo the rhythm of our sheltered life indoors.

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Qiu Anxiong: ‘Cake,’ 2014, video animation, 6 min 02 sec // Courtesy of MOMENTUM

Another work in the exhibition, ‘Cake’ (2014), is an animated film that combines drawing, painting and clay against the backdrop of a police radio, heart-rate monitors and ambulance sirens, sounds that can be read as eerily relevant today. Qiu Anxiong’s art practice includes oil painting and landscape painting, but primarily focuses on animated films in which he combines traditional Chinese ink-and-wash techniques to juxtapose his subject matter, which often covers contemporary social and environmental issues. ‘Cake’ is a stunningly fluid work of stop motion animation that represents formation and destruction. Hands are formed out of clay, only to be dissolved into heaps of raw material. Faces rise up to kiss, to consume each other, to disappear. The recurring images of wrestlers rendered in drawing and painting remind us now of the lack of physical touch we may be experiencing in our daily lives.

The video works presented in this exhibition are all pulled from MOMENTUM’s collection, which has been growing steadily since its inception in 2010. ‘COVIDecameron’ is a perfect example of how artists from all over the world gather to share stories and bring a piece of the outside world to life in isolation, just like the storytellers of Florence once did, many centuries ago.

Exhibition Info

Group Show: ‘COVIDecameron’
Exhibition: May 12, 2020 – Ongoing
Online Exhibition, click here

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