Studio Visit: Dani Leventhal

Looking inside and out through the artist's keen lens.

How do you create your video pieces?
I shoot a ton, all the time. I have this collective library of footage, and I start pulling from that and putting things together formally, or to create a particular reading. There is a cumulative emotional effect to the pieces, but the way things are laid next to each other does have meaning. For example, in Draft 9 I was shooting my grandmother who was moving her head back and forth like a bird, so I put a clip of a pigeon next to that. It's a close-up shot, so you can see the iridescent feathers. Pigeons were originally brought to cities to be ornamental, and they were also messengers with important functions. I feel like old women used to have more of an important position in society, and now we shove them into old-folks homes. I put the two next to each other to draw attention to that. I don't know if that comes through, but something does. I'm being literal in those choices, instead of metaphorical.

Sometimes you incorporate fictional elements that are staged, like the piece you have on view right now at MoMA PS1's "Greater New York." What goes into those parts?
Well, there's this killing scene in the video that came from an emotional state I was in at the time, which was that I was feeling really violent. So I constructed the shot with my housemate, doing a number of takes to get it right. But they all looked a little bit pathetic, so I just put them all in to make a bit of a joke from that.

Your work is remarkably textural and embodies strong physical urges. How did you decide to use video as a medium?
I'd been making sculpture for years. In 2002, I had an accident while working on this piece that had a harness and a boat winch, and I broke my hand in three places. I couldn't build anymore, so I decided to start working with the computer and the mouse. Also, I was working with animals a lot, skinning them and making sculpture from their hides. And I wanted to do a performance from that, but I decided it would be a much better idea to shoot it on video and have the action be further away from viewers. I've yet to make a real narrative piece. I feel strongly that most of my work is about paying attention to what's in front of me. When you see butterflies flying around, you kind of get glimpses of them, and it's hard to tell what they look like. But at a place like the Museum of Natural History, they're pinned down; you can see everything. I'm trying to do something similar—spread things out and arrange them according to an emotional logic.

Leventhal's work is on view at MoMA PS1 as part of "Greater New York 2010."

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