A “farb,” curator Julie Rudder explains in her introduction to this exhibition, subtitled “Modes of Reenactment,” is someone who fails at historical reenactment. The term is an abbreviation of “far be it from reality.” While the word normally is applied to war reenactors, only one work in this small, uneven show relates to war, though all are concerned with authenticity—or a lack thereof.
Heather Mekkelson’s massive sculpture Rikuzentakata (2012) confronts visitors as soon as they enter the gallery. The wall of clothing refers to a city destroyed by the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan. Unfortunately, the pile of clean, light-colored garments feels far removed from that horrific event. Despite its impressive scale, Rikuzentakata doesn’t conjure up a sense of the human beings affected by the disaster. Kirsten Leenaars’s video Folding Within You Without You (2010), a piece about the last ten years of her grandmother’s life, is also too elliptical to make viewers care about its poignant subject matter.
“Embracing the Farb” suggests reenactments must tap into a shared visual language to be effective. Lori Felker’s multichannel video The Variable Area Television Network (2009–12) borrows so many tropes from TV that its deviations jar us into recognizing how ridiculous the medium can be. (local disaster: widespread destruction in catastrophe’s wake, proclaims a news segment’s hysterical, uninformative chyron.) In Jefferson Pinder’s chilling Escape Artist performance, the black artist dangles from a tree on a site where a lynching once occurred as he re-creates Harry Houdini’s escape from a straitjacket. Directly implicating viewers, Pinder chips away at our detachment from history—no period costume needed.