“The Body Politic: Video from The Met Collection” is being featured at The Met Breuer from June 20th until September 3rd. The exhibit presents four videos created between 1995 and 2015 that range from provocative to the poignant while considering the body in relationship to race, ethnicity, class, and gender.
One of the videos is David Hammon’s “Phat Free,” which aims to directly confront the conundrum faced by black men as they transverse public space in American society with their mobility restricted and their presence coded as either menacing, suspicious, or aggravating. The first half of the video is in complete darkness, with only the sound of what is later identified as a metal bucket being kicked down the streets of New York City by the artist. With the swipes at the bucket, Hammon also conjures the intensity of music and dance.
In Arthur Jafa’s “Love Is the Message, the Message is Death,” is a contemplation of footage from films, newscasts, sporting events, and citizen videos. All of the videos are joined to Kanye West’s song “Ultralight Beam,” a mix of gospel and hip-hop. Jafa’s video narrates the history of black agency, sociability, creativity, and trauma that has been recorded throughout history. Scenes of children, parents, dancers, musicians, reverends, athletes, and Civil Rights activists are mixed with images of police violence and systematic racism.
Steve McQueen’s “Five Easy Pieces” is a silent film transferred from 16mm black-and-white film that plays on a continuous loop. There are five vignettes or “pieces” that each feature a person or group of people of African descent, one of which is the artist. In the video, McQueen forces viewers to admit their particular erotic, psychic, racial, and political investment in the black bodies on display in the film.
In Mika Rottenberg’s “NoNoseKnows,” is the longest video of the exhibit that displays both a fantasy and polemic. The subject is the global economy, which Rottenberg frames as an exploitative system that extracts wealth from natural resources and regulates belaboring bodies – more specifically the bodies of Chinese women. There are two settings – a pearl making factory in China and a set in New York – within the video that are knit together to form the backdrop of the story. The actors, including Bunny Glamazon, perform on both sets that contribute to the artist’s narrative of cause and effect.
The exhibit is curated by Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky, and Leon Polsky, curator in the department of Modern and Contemporary Art, in consultation with Doug Eklund, curator in the Department of Photographs, both at The Met.