Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Ben Williams explores our current exhibition…
As someone who typically hurries his way through the video art section of exhibitions, I feared the worst when I read Stanya Kahn’s It’s Cool, I’m Good would be largely made from video exhibits. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a (possibly unfair) prejudice of moving imagines within a gallery space. Well, thankfully Kahn’s work feels something more akin to a small, if admittedly rather avant-garde, film festival. In the past I have felt rather lost amongst video exhibits, like I had accidentally wandered into a scene from THX 1138, but here Kahn uses something familiar to a documentary narrative and a consistent theme. Because of this there is more value in experiencing each piece in its entirety, through some films run in excess of 30 minutes, so those struggling with time would still appreciate the feel of each piece by passing though.
First up is It’s Cool, I’m Good, a fictional documentary which follows Kahn as a bandaged misfit suffering the increasing ills of a mysterious accident. We witness her enjoying corndogs, skateboards and voyeuristically surfing the internet from the relative comfort of bed. On the surface she’s a humorous character, hindered with an arrested development and social awkwardness that recalls Napoleon Dynamite. However there’s something disturbing about watching her fantasist adventures unfold in what may be her final days. I’m reminded of Timothy Treadwell, the tragic real-life subject of Werner Herzog’s documentary Grizzly Man. Like in Herzog’s film you empathise and somehow admire it’s sweet-natured star but look on with an uncomfortable sense of inevitability.
The theme of wounded resilience continues with three documentary pieces in Gallery 2. Kathy, featuring Kahn’s best friend and Sandra, featuring her mother, are hand held interviews conducted by Kahn over two years. Both women speak candidly about their lives and surviving with trauma, again it’s both amusing and poignant. Least subtle of the three, but my personal favorite is Who Do You Think You Are, a real life straight to camera interview with self styled help guru Kellie. She’s not the most difficult subject to poke fun at, her indigestible word soup is contradictory, full of excuses and overly defensive. More than anything though, she’s determined and once again the humor is bitter-sweet, despite ever really understanding what Kellie says, Kahn reveals to us her humanity.
From such intimate reality in Gallery 2, moving upstairs to Gallery 3 feels like going through the looking glass. Here Kahn displays four completely different shorts in various media. At this point I couldn’t necessarily recognise anything other than tone, and despite being someone who’d usually cling to the security of a traditional narrative, I rather enjoyed them. Happy Song For You is the most eye-catching, if not completely pleasant, addition. Stop motion toy story Hey Ho, Nobody’s Home I liked the most, even feeling comfortable not fully understanding it.
Peppered throughout Gallery 3 are Kahn’s sketches, a collection of sea creatures, worms and zombies. They seem like characters plucked from the imagination her cast, struggling like they do in her films to survive. Slightly crude and somewhat lovable, I really like these drawings and I’m reminded in a very good way of Chris (Simpsons Artist), who has a similarly amusing, surprisingly poignant style.
Kahn recently spoke at length about the exhibition and talked about ‘looking for vulnerability and tenacity’ in her subjects, this is evident throughout It’s Cool, I’m Good, often in a amusing and sometimes inspiring way but not without sadness. Maybe it’s that Kahn’s exaggerated characters are not quite as absurd as we would like to think, and shows us humanity in people we might feel more comfortable pretending not to see it in. Least of all ourselves.
Stanya Kahn: It’s Cool, I’m Good runs until Sun 16 Sep in Galleries 1, 2 and 3. Entry is free.