Teresa Hubbard & Alexander Birchler

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Through January 4, 2009
by Charissa Terranova

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      Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler
      Grand Paris Texas, video still
      High-definition video with sound
      Installation dimensions variable
      Commissioned by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
      Courtesy the artists

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      A provocative though understated confusion of media unfolds in the upstairs galleries at the Modern in Fort Worth, which currently hold the decidedly filmic videos and photographs of Austin-based internationals Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. Their body of work displays a tension between the capture of time in the still, photographic image and the slow deliberative movement of storytelling in film. One feels this friction with the juxtaposition of two projects: the on-going photographic series of the Filmstills and the 54-minute video commissioned by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Grand Paris Texas (2008). In both projects Hubbard and Birchler investigate the the movie theater as a cultivator of vision and knowledge.

      Two large C-print photographs, Filmstill – Gloomy Sunday (2000) and Filmstill – Tinseltown South (2002), hang on facing walls, each centering on the façade of a movie theater, one old and the other new. The blue-gray tones and the tumbledown architecture of the former offer a stark contrast to the pop of the green, blue and red of the new multiplex in the latter. This pairing tells a story of the transformation of the movie theater through time. Yet the moral to this story moves beyond the seeming simplicity of the images before you. The images are composite set ups, which the artists have concocted from several shots of each façade taken over time. Theirs is a moral rooted in fabrication: they tell us of the construction of vision through directorial legerdemain and, more precisely, they suggest that that celluloid and movie houses carry a powerful epistemology.

      This idea is equally central to the documentary-cum-film Grand Paris Texas. Hubbard and Birchler mine young and old citizens of Paris, Texas for their take on the now derelict movie theater on Main Street and the effects of Wim Wenders’s 1984 film Paris, Texas. Mimicking the roundabout nature of Paris, Texas, Grand Paris Texas is not forthrightly about Wenders’s film. Rather the concern of this documentary is the status of a cultural heirloom – the town movie theater. The documentary, like most of their work on view at the Modern, seems both substantively and formally influenced by Wim Wenders.

      With respect to the actual message or story at hand, both the Filmstills and Grand Paris Texas recall Wenders’ Kings of the Road (1975), the first of the director’s famed road trilogy. Wenders’ film does not really tell a story, but follows two men traveling in a truck along the border between West and East Germany. The main character Bruno Winter is a roving movie projection repairman. The film follows Winter from run down theater to run down theater, where he does his magic, bringing the machines of cinema back to life. As with the Filmstills and Grand Paris Texas, Kings of the Road is concerned with the decline of the movie theater and how it might be symptomatic of the death of cinema as a public art form.

      The work of Hubbard and Birchler bears a tension between image and story that is also central to the work of Wenders. Wenders put it this way: “In films the images don’t necessarily lead to anything else; they stand on their own.” As in Wenders's work, in Hubbard and Birchler’s films, the still image and moving narrative work in conjunction. The still image becomes part of the long, drawn out, deliberative unfolding of a story. House with Pool (2004) is a slow moving 20-minute 39-second narrative of a runaway daughter and quiet beseeching mother. The shots of the mother, her hands on the piano, then daughter, her hands on the piano, then pool cleaner, his body in the pool digging out a dead fawn, are episodic in nature. Hubbard and Birchler string each of these autonomous images together to create the seamless circle of the filmic loop.

      Describing this episodic nature in Wenders’ filmic images, Alexander Graff explains “The telling of a story is thus not the immediate objective of the films; rather, the story is an integral part of the act of filming, one that does not necessarily serve any specific goal.”

      Charissa N. Terranova is Assistant Professor of Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, Director of Centraltrak: The UT Dallas Artists Residency and a freelance critic. Her writing appears regularly in the Dallas Morning News, Art Lies, Art Papers, Sculpture Magazine and Art News.


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