Alex Prager’s exhibition at Lehmann Maupin’s 22nd Street location combines sculpture and still photography with her new film Play The Wind. The photographs in the show recreate scenes from the film, but are not from the film itself. There are also photos of scenes that could have been from the film, but are not. These allow the viewer to consider alternate narratives to the story they have just seen. The photos also offer an opportunity to see many of the details from the film seen only briefly while watching.
Running for eight minutes, Play the Wind is a journey into a bizarre version of Los Angeles. It’s seen mainly through the window of a car, the way many Los Angeles residents often see it. Places seem familiar, as do many of the large cast of extras who inhabit this world, even if you are not personally familiar with the city.
The cab driver, played by Dimitri Chamblas (dean of the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance at CalArts), drives through situations that seem both surreal and possible at the same time, like many things that happen in LA. At one point the cab driver, drives past an accident on the highway and sees a car vertical between two other cars with children in a school bus leaning out of the windows to observe. He passes alongside and moves on. It’s just another moment in a chaotic Los Angeles day. When he locks eyes with a woman played by actress Riley Keough, the film changes to her perspective and it all becomes even more dreamlike.
From the press release–
…She anchors her characteristically elaborate fictional scenes within the real Los Angeles, shooting for the first time in many years primarily on location rather than in the studio—a decision that harkens back to when Prager began her career over a decade ago. Though the images contain large constructed set pieces and are populated with carefully cast extras (numbering up to 300), the presence of the Los Angeles streets infuses an element of urban lifeblood that is palpable in the work. Prager’s perception of Los Angeles is one of the artifice and drama befitting Hollywood, with real world chaos that overflows into sci-fi dystopia and post-apocalyptic dread. She toys with these visions of the city disseminated on film, TV, and within the popular imagination, which inform our characterization of a place as much as our own memories.
Technically important to the making of this film was Prager’s collaboration with a team to produce set designs and props that would add a layer of artifice and duplicity to her real-world locations. The interference of these traditional illusionary effects upon the actual Los Angeles streets and locations Prager shot on creates an unnerving sensation, hinting at the reality that might exist just outside of our perception. All of these elements are recast in the series of photographs, which appear in different configurations or on various scales that further destabilize any linear narrative. Drawing on the concept of a distorted memory, Prager has found ways to incorporate objects seen in the photographs and film into the gallery as sculpture, with the intent to further dislodge our understanding of place and time and bring us deeper into her highly constructed world.
Connoisseurs of Prager’s work will likely spot the references to her past series, such as the noir themed Compulsion (2012), or the archetypical ingénue of The Big Valley (2008). This self-referencing becomes yet another layering device, mixing Prager’s career-spanning themes and the greater art historical genres from which they are drawn to create work both entirely new, yet seemingly familiar. Prager’s incorporation of her past into her present work serves as a reminder that while the past may not be returned to, it does remain with us, appearing in surprising, sometimes unsettling ways.
This exhibition closes 10/26/19.