White Russian

By Lisa Hunter on July 15, 2013

 

Eve Sussman and Monia Lippi, Jeff in Yuri’s Office (2010), digital c-print, collection of the artist. Courtesy Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York 

Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation are such smarties. Their art is as dense as a James Joyce novel, full of intellectual references taken from anywhere and everywhere. They intimidate me a lot.

But whiteonwhite is a surprisingly sensory experience. It’s as if your brain were one of those old-fashioned switchboards that light up as an operator plugs in the jacks. The show keeps making connections for you, between things as disparate as cosmonauts, the Silk Road, and Antonioni’s Blow Up. Somehow it all makes sense together, even if you can’t put your finger on why. 

The show is a combination of film, video, and installations that all have something to do with Russia or Central Asia, starting off with a life-sized diorama of Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin’s office. We’re in the Cold War era—you can tell by the drabness of the room. But we’re also in an old-fashioned vision of what the future would be: the atomic-style furniture and streamlined model rocket are pure 1950s, and yet they’re not. Right away, the exhibition tells you it’s going to play with the ideas of space and time.

 

Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation, whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (film still) [2009–11], video, unique programming code, code screen. Indefinite running time. Richard J. Massey Collection, New York 

The Cold War foreboding is unmistakable. Throughout the exhibition, there’s a sense of watching and spying. We see old tape recorders and blurry surveillance-type film. In travelogue footage, satellite dishes are everywhere; even the poorest housing complexes have them. No one is ever truly alone in this Workers’ Paradise.

Three large images of apartment-building windows seem to be lightbox photos—until someone ruffles a curtain in one of the windows, and you realize it’s video. As you stand there waiting for something else to happen, you become a voyeur, like a KGB watcher attentive to every detail. It’s a creepy feeling—one that carries into the next room, where you see video of landscapes speeding by through train windows. Your brain instinctively scans for the unusual detail, as if you were searching for a clue in hours of footage.

 

Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation, whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (film still) [2009–11], video, unique programming code, code screen. Indefinite running time. Richard J. Massey Collection, New York 

The main film in the exhibition is hard to describe, because an algorithm ensures that it’s different every time. You get a personal experience no one else gets, like memory itself. When I saw it, the film was riffing on Soviet idealism, absurdly proposing that everyone should have an equal vocabulary; in this linguistic utopia, elegant speakers would lose their language, unless they’d carefully parceled out their number of words since birth.

Your own experience will, of course, be different. The film, like everything else in whiteonwhite, is a kind of Sensurround, real-time Rashomon. It’s endlessly compelling, even though you know you’ll never get the straight story.

whiteonwhite Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation is on view at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal until 8 September 2013


By Lisa Hunter| July 15, 2013
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Lisa Hunter

Lisa Hunter

Lisa Hunter is a screenwriter and arts journalist in Montreal. Her book, The Intrepid Art Collector, was published by Three Rivers/Random House Canada.

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