The Chittendens

Catherine Sullivan’s new installation at Metro Pictures is well worth seeing. The Chittendens, a five-channel video, explores gesture by assigning a set of “attitudes”, as the artist describes it, to 16 actors. Using a remarkable score by composer Sean Griffin the videos present rhythmic patterns of distinct and random gestures…an exploration of “the constraints and paradoxes of theatrical representation.” This is an area of great interest at the moment. I’m thinking of Candice Breitz, who has a new installation also in Chelsea at the moment, which I saw yesterday as well. Her three pieces, titled “soliloquoy” are again taken directly from films–Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, and Sharon Stone. Condensing the speaking parts of one actor Brietz constructs quite a powerful soliloquoy. The Stone in particular was hard to move away from.

Sullivan’s work was equally mesmerizing, history layered though costume, most effective when we saw the same actor gesturing in multiple costumes. However, unlike Breitz, Sullivan is creating entirely new visuals, not simply recycling and shaping. Furthermore, the music, composed for this installation, was brilliant. Bravo to composer Sean Griffin for nailing the mood (if you follow that link you’ll find a sample). I’ve heard this described as “avant film noir” and yes, there is something in that. But there was something infinitely warm and inviting about Sullivan’s piece–down to the choice of laying carpet, which created a muffled, parlour room feel.

This is a play on the 18th century idea of acting–we’ve see this recently in Restoration based narratives–but there is also something Steinian in this work. The variety of patterns, random combinations, but persistant repititions all add up to a moving experience.

The title comes from an insurance company that uses the lighthouse as its logo. But it is a choice that resonates powerfully even if you don’t know that the lighthouse is positioned on Poverty Island–surely a place we all want to steer clear of.

The show closes this weekend at Metro Pictures, but continues at the Tate , until March 5th.