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Other films, including the dazzling but ultimately thin digital floor projection by Paul Chan, 1st Light, 2005, seemed incidental. If you consider Chan's Calder mobile-like work along with his unsanctioned month in Iraq and his involvement with the aid group Voices in the Wilderness, the level of expectation for this work is high. Instead of loading his imagery with potent political icons, viewers are teased with elusive silhouettes of birds and other flying things. Jordan Wolfson's silent b/w film uses sign language to play out an excerpt of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940/2005), but falls short.

Paul Chan, 1st Light, 2005
©Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

DTAOT: COMBINE (DON'T TRUST ANYONE OVER THIRTY, ALL OVER AGAIN) , 2005, originally seen as a performance at Miami Basel, has been reconfigured as a video installation by Dan Graham, Tony Oursler, Laurent P. Berger, and Japanther. While the live element was removed, real life intervened: the guard, Claude McKay, was taken away in an ambulance after collapsing, though he was back in position two days later for Deutsche Bank's private view, preventing anyone over thirty from entering.

Marilyn Minter, Stepping Up, 2005
©Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

In the context of the biennial, counter-culture is less than deviant. Given more space, Marilyn Minter's painting of crusty-heeled stilettos, Stepping Up, 2005, could have retained a bit more nastiness. And as for decadence, the line into Francesco Vezzoli's false X-rated Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal's "Caligula," 2005, was certainly busy. He wins the award for best docu-diva-drama (parents: keep your kids blind-folded). The trailer features an outrageous Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect) and Benicio Del Toro (Traffic) as well as a very pleased Gore Vidal.

Helen Mirren in Francesco Vezzoli's Trailer for
a Remake of Gore Vidal's Caligula, 2005
©Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

In addition to these antechambers, there is, of course, a dedicated and very interesting film program featuring films from the experimental to the political. Michael Snow's historic 1966 Wavelength comes in a shortened 15-minute version: WVLNT (Wavelength for Those Who Don't Have the Time) . Wavelength first gained major international recognition as an experimental film in the 60s. A simple narrative seems to define the film's action: a bookcase is brought into a loft by two women, then a man (played by experimental artist Hollis Frampton) enters and falls dead on the floor. However, Snow pushes this narrative aside as a series of superimpositions, zooms, and shifts in color and sound start to throw the film's development off course, forcing viewers to loosen their dependence on plot. The film program also includes the very clever SSHTOORRTY, 2005. A short story superimposed onto itself, it's the tale of a painting from start to delivery and destruction; the film is in Farsi with subtitles. Snow's work can also be seen on monitors in the galleries.

Michael Snow at the Whitney Biennial
©Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

The film program is scheduled throughout the biennial and also includes films by Lewis Klahr and George Butler . Butler's 89-minute film, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, 2004 might have done well as an outdoor projection. Instead, at the entrance to the museum is a re-play of Cameron Jamie's Artist's Tower for Peace, first created in 1966 to protest the Vietnam War and originally including artists like Elaine de Kooning, Leon Golub, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, and Mark Rothko. Mark di Suvero and Rirkrit Tiravanija collaborated in the remake and asked 300 artists to participate, including Elizabeth Peyton, Simon Lee, Nancy Spero, and James Rosenquist. The 2006 version has lost its political edge at the very moment when it's needed most. Considering worldwide protests marking America's third year in Iraq, it's curious that the Tower's imagery isn't more overtly political.

Rirkrit Tiravanija at the Whitney Biennial
©Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

The final subtext of the biennial is centered on the strange fusion between live event and film, as in the case of Pierre Huyghe, who continues the work of his Public Art Fund's projects in Central Park presented by Deutsche Bank. Instead of quoting from a pre-existing world crisis, Huyghe created his own crisis twice. The first was a month-long trip to Antarctica, filmed in 16mm, and the second was a live performance in Central Park, shot in high definition video featuring a full orchestra playing in a storm on an ice rink that didn’t freeze. Huyghe's video installation, A Journey That Wasn't, presented by Deutsche Bank, intercuts a live event in New York's Central Park with a harrowing but beautiful journey to the Antarctic. It's part Raiders of the Lost Ark and part madness as Huyghe and crew set sail in search of an Albino penguin. Huyghe spoke at the Whitney for Deutsche Bank's private view along with Seth H. Waugh, Deutsche Bank's CEO of the Americas, and Whitney Director Adam Weinberg. Later, curators Chrissie Iles and Philippe Vergne gave special tours of the Biennial to two separate groups during the Deutsche Bank private view accompanied by Gary Hattem, President of Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, and Alessandra di Giusto, Chief Administrative Officer of Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation.

Pierre Huyghe, stills from the video installation
The Journey that Wasn't, 2005
©Copyright Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

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