Once Upon a Time: Fantastic Narratives in Contemporary Video

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Aleksandra Mir,
First Woman on the Moon, 1999 © Aleksandra Mir

Aleksandra Mir, First Woman on the Moon, 1999–. Color video, with sound, 12 min., publicity stills, and open-ended archive originating from the live event on August 28, 1999, produced by Casco Projects, Utrecht, on location in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, dimensions vary with installation. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Purchased with funds contributed by the International Director's Council and Executive Committee Members: Tiqui Atencio Demirdjian, Ruth Baum, Edythe Broad, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, Elaine Terner Cooper, Harry David, Gail May Engelberg, Shirley Fiterman, Laurence Graff, Nicki Harris, Dakis Joannou, Rachel Lehmann, Linda Macklowe, Peter Norton, Tonino Perna, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Simonetta Seragnoli, Cathie Shriro, David Teiger, Ginny Williams, and Elliot K. Wolk, and Sustaining Members: Linda Fischbach, Beatrice Habermann, and Cargill and Donna MacMillan 2005.62. © Aleksandra Mir

Once Upon a Time: Fantastic Narratives in Contemporary Video

July 8–October 9, 2011

Fables, myths, and fairy tales have long allowed cultures to examine the more wondrous aspects of the human condition. The selection of video works inOnce Upon a Time: Fantastic Narratives in Contemporary Video, drawn from the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, moves beyond childhood fantasies of good and evil to examine more nuanced concerns addressed by six contemporary artists. Aleksandra Mir and Francis Alÿs manipulate belief in similar ways, imagining tales of collective emancipation. In First Woman on the Moon (1999–), Mir reenacts the historic 1969 lunar landing with female astronauts on a beach in the Netherlands. The event is a feminist sequel to the original mission, extending the mediated legend. Similarly, Alÿs fabricates a modern urban myth in When Faith Moves Mountains (Cuando la fe mueve montañas, 2002). For this work, approximately 500 volunteers shoveled sand up and over a dune in the outskirts of Lima, Peru, until the mountain moved about ten centimeters from its original position. The endeavor demonstrates the potential power of a collective working together toward a goal, even one so fleeting.

Janaina Tschäpe explores historical memory in Lacrimacorpus (2004), in which she adopts the legend of the squonk or Lacrimacorpus dissolvens, a sorrowful creature who, when trapped, dissolves into a pool of its own tears. Tschäpe's creature inhabits the Schloss Ettersburg, near Buchenwald, notable for both its literary and horrifyingly tragic history. The protagonist in Pierre Huyghe's One Million Kingdoms (2001), manga character Annlee, intertwines astronaut Neil Armstrong's account of the first moon landing (from which her voice is digitally derived) with passages from Jules Verne's 1864 novel A Journey to the Center of the Earth (Voyage au centre de la terre), mapping the landscape as she speaks.

The fables presented by Mika Rottenberg and Cao Fei use fantastical tropes to dramatize alienation in an industrial context. In Whose Utopia (2006) Cao examines the effects of capitalism on individual workers at the OSRAM China Lighting Ltd. factory in the Pearl River Delta. In Dough (2006) Rottenberg seeks to counterbalance the dehumanization of work by creating an absurd assembly line manned by laborers whose bodily excretions and extraordinary physiques play a part in the literal sweatshop.

Each work in Once Upon a Time tells a story and leaves the viewer subtly altered by the possibilities for transformation of human, political, and social conditions.