Eija-Liisa Ahtila, The Hour of Prayer
Marian Goodman Gallery, through Sat 25
Thu Feb 23 2006
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5
Taken at face value, Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s four-channel video projection, The Hour of Prayer, is a sentimental journey charting a woman’s experience of her dog’s death. But by eschewing conventional cinematic storytelling and constructing a nonnarrative cycle of apparently random, but nonetheless consequential scenes, the Finnish artist endows her tale with contemplative significance.
The video opens with shots of a wintry Manhattan skyline and a blonde woman (who bears a striking resemblance to Jessica Lange) waking up in Chelsea’s Maritime Hotel from a nightmare: her dog, still in Finland, desperately trying to find her. The scene soon shifts to a pristine, ice-covered lake as the heroine, in voice-over narration, informs us that her dog fell through the ice during a winter walk and broke its leg. A scene in a veterinarian’s office reveals that the dog has bone cancer and only a few months to live. After her pet dies, the woman lands an artist’s residency in Benin, Africa, where she’s awakened each morning by chiming church bells, accompanied by the howling of a pack of wild dogs.
The piece closes with the actress singing, a cappella, in a still, small voice evocative of prayer and meditation. As the modest action of The Hour of Prayer crosses three continents, Ahtila challenges the belief that history is a realm of public, epic narrative and uncovers the truth: that it is also a domain of the individual and the spiritual.—Bridget L. Goodbody