Pawel Wojtasik at Smack Mellon
March 6 – April 11
92 Plymouth Street,
Brooklyn, 718 834 8761
There is a special excitement to seeing a video artist take into consideration the space in which his or her piece is shown. Pawel Wojtasik’s site-specific installation at Smack Mellon, At the Still Point, does this beautifully. The breaks in his 5-channel video, projected onto a massive wall, divides the video by the row of support columns in this large open space. Each video panel is 6’ wide and 21 feet tall, making the overall projection 30 feet plus wide, achieving a sculptural presence.
The size of the projection is matched by the scale of its content. At the Still Point shows a series of mass activities in India such as a dhobi ghat (laundry facility) outside of Mumbai, a ship-breaking yard in Alang, cremation rites on the banks of the Ganges, a shantytown at night.
The laundry scenes were especially striking: hundreds of men standing in grey water, slapping and rubbing laundry in ancient stone cubicles. Colored squares of drying laundry hang in rows like prayer flags and make an immense, steamy landscape. The camera takes in the scene sometimes from overhead, uniting all five panels, and sometimes one panel focuses upon a single, sweating individual, or a small group. The juxtaposition of close ups and wide angles gives a personal face to the awesome mass activity.
In the ship-breaking yard, masses of Indian workers use hand tools to dismantle Western steel vessels, bit by bit, for recycling. Here, a wide angle shot of the enormous ship becomes the landscape with tiny workers held aloft with bamboo scaffolding and cranes crawling across the surface like ants. A long series of images takes place at night, the camera voyeuristically peering into a shanty of domiciles lit from within. These moments are quiet and still. Close-up glimpses of poverty and domestic life contrast with the vast busyness of the other activities. Men perform cremation rites at the banks of the Ganges, in the last scene, in mesmerizing slow motion.
An ambient, but powerful soundscape, created by electronic musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello, unites the 30 minute video and incorporates the sounds of the scenes—snapping laundry, the dripping water, squealing cranes, murmurs and chants of the workers, ringing hammers, hissing blowtorches and irons.
At the Still Point explores the contradictions of Indian society (or any other so-called “emerging” economic power, like China) that is pre-industrial and at the same time, increasingly modern. The work presents the themes of life, death and rebirth in juxtaposition with consumption, destruction and renewal as a powerful metaphor for the rapid transition to a modern capitalistic country. The scale of the video and the space in which it is being shown combine to arresting effect.