David Kordansky Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by William E. Jones. The exhibition will open on February 12 and run through March 26. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, February 12 from 6:00 to 9:00pm. William E. Jones is an artist, filmmaker, photographer and writer known for using appropriation, documentary and historical research to call attention to the inextricable relationships between images and power. In recent years his focus has shifted away from the production of films made to be screened in cinemas, and towards gallery-based works of extreme and concentrated visual impact. The exhibition will consist of three new movies, as well as two new print-based works, that investigate the roles of film and photography during moments of cultural upheaval.
To create the movies, Jones applies formal and organizational strategies to existing photographs and film footage, seeking to reveal the hidden, and even suppressed, historical narratives latent in their content. Since Jones works on the frames individually in Photoshop and then sequences them as animations, each frame retains an incredibly high level of photographic detail, and the finished movies occupy an unstable position between film and video.
In Mathew Brady’s Studio makes use of 100 portraits taken by the seminal American photographer in his Washington, D.C. studio after the Civil War. These images represent men prominent in the political establishment of the time, but Jones pays particular attention to the studio props with which their subjects are posed; 60 of the photographs feature a Greek-style patterned fabric, and 40 feature a vase with a floral relief. The movie consists of three loops projected next to each other. The sequence on the left zooms in and out of the fabric, the sequence on the right zooms in and out of the vase, and the projection in the center zooms slowly into the subject’s face and ends at the eye closer to the camera. The work draws parallels between a transitional period in the country’s past and the current political climate, in which divisions loom larger than shared interests.
Division is also a prominent theme in Berlin Flash Frames, which uses archival footage Jones found in the National Archives under the label “Berlin 1961.” The footage was originally shot as a propaganda film by the U.S. Information Agency, and depicts scenes of life along the Berlin Wall, oscillating between obviously staged (i.e. ‘fictional’) vignettes with actors and documentary reportage. Jones calls attention to moments when the production is at its least guarded. By exposing the mechanisms of the film, the work also questions the larger narratives used to disseminate information about military occupations and the aftermath of war.
Spatial Disorientation utilizes film footage shot from the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force plane performing practice maneuvers in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, and is perhaps the most visually complex of the movies Jones has made to date. The looped image of a cloudy sky spins vertiginously as the plane spirals through the air. However, Jones worked and altered digital scans of each individual frame according to a rigorous mathematical system, creating a series of variations based on color and motion blurs applied to the image. During transitional moments, there are intense stroboscopic effects that challenge the viewer’s ability to look at the work. By interacting with the material in this way, Jones brings out the psychedelic potential of military footage, forging an unlikely connection between cultural forces that are at direct odds with one another.
The two print-based pieces on view explore documentation of the Paris Commune’s brief seizure of power in 1871. In Postcards of Versailles, a series of three postcard-sized prints, Jones superimposes images of assassinated Communards in their coffins over tourist images of Versailles. The work takes on the visual quality of a reliquary, creating an unsettling conflation of two kinds of photographic records: commercial postcards and images of death circulated by the French government as warnings to potential revolutionaries that insurrection would be met with severe force.
1871, a four-panel work, incorporates photographs of the Vendôme Column before, during, and after its destruction by the Commune. In an art historical context, these images also function as indirect documentation of a key moment in the life of Gustave Courbet, who was imprisoned after the French government took back power because he had suggested that the Column be moved across the Seine. In keeping with this history, the final panel of Jones’ work includes Nadar’s famous portrait of Courbet juxtaposed with a photograph of the restored Column; the artist seems to be looking despairingly at the ever-resilient symbol of imperialist power.
In 2011 William E. Jones will be the subject of a retrospective at the Austrian Film Museum, Vienna. His work has been featured in solo programs and exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Anthology Film Archives, New York; ar/ge kunst Gallery Museum, Bolzano, Italy; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; and Tate Modern, London, among others. Recent and upcoming group exhibitions include The Spectacular of Vernacular, curated by Darsie Alexander, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Artist’s Museum, MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, Los Angeles; More American Photographs, curated by Jens Hoffmann, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; Serious Games: War – Media – Art, curated by Antje Ehmann and Harun Farocki, Mathildenhöhe, Darmstadt, Germany; Nachleben, curated by Fionn Meade and Lucy Raven, Goethe Institut Wyoming Building, New York; The Collectors, curated by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Nordic Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale; Beg, Borrow and Steal, Rubell Family Collection, Miami; and the 2008 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.