detail from installation by Christian Jankowski – The Matrix Effect. Photo by Berenice
Berlin-based Christian Jankowski is a problem artist. His problems are not, however, of the kind familiar to, say, formalist painting, with its “problems” of color and composition. Rather, he is interested in the creative potential of life’s awkward moments, embarrassing situations, mistakes, confusions and unexpected events. Jankowski’s work involves creating problems -which is, in fact, the title of a 1999 piece. Create Problems involved five real-life couples who were invited to act out on video a series of scripted sexual fantasies in a pornographic film studio. Before things go too far, however, the couples begin discussing their domestic problems, destroying the erotic ambience and landing all concerned back down to earth with a thud. A psychotherapist was engaged to provide a commentary on their relationship issues, which appears in a publication by the artist alongside “action” photographs of the couples.
Jankowski came to Hartford to plan his Matrix exhibition without preconceptions. He has often worked with video and photography, but also with installation, performance and text. His only brief for Matrix was to create a new work. Initial ideas about exploring the relationship between insurance (Hartford’s traditional business) and risk (the business of innovative art) were abandoned as the artist became fascinated by the Wadsworth Atheneum’s own history -in particular that of its Matrix program. This year, Matrix celebrates its 25th anniversary. The 141-name-long roll call of artists to have preceded Jankowski is an impressive, even intimidating one for a young artist making his U.S. debut.
Jankowski decided to make the history of Matrix the starting point for his project. His concept was to make a video that would playfully collide two decidedly different narrative genres: historical documentary and fairy tale. To that end, Jankowski set about gathering interviews with Matrix founder Jim Elliott (Director of the Wadsworth Atheneum from 1966-76) and between the long-time curator of Matrix, Andrea Miller-Keller (1975-1998) and some of the artists who had participated during her distinguished tenure. The participating artists are: Janine Antoni (1996), John Baldessari (1977), Dawoud Bey (1997), Christo and Jeanne Claude (1978), Louise Lawler (1984), Sol LeWitt (1975), Glenn Ligon (1992), Adrian Piper (1980).
The artists were sent a series of questions particular to their Matrix exhibition, to which they responded in writing or by telephone. A script was devised based on these interviews. Departing from conventional documentary form, none of the interviewees appear on camera. Rather, all the participants are played by children between the ages of seven and ten. Hence, The Matrix Effect -a supernatural transformation whereby commitment to new art and ideas stimulates a radical age reversal. Eternal youth is not the only “Matrix effect.” Surprising transformations occur as the sophisticated concepts and language of the artists are interpreted and spoken by the children. It is important to note that the performers, who are not professional child actors, were not asked to learn the script in advance. Instead, their lines were fed to them take by take. Again, Jankowski exploits the problems created by his scenario. In their earnest attempts to repeat complicated lines, the children often change them, opening a space between intended and stated meaning.
“Critics,” for a moment; becomes “critters;” “contemporary” shifts to “contrary;” “historical” ends up “hysterical.” For the artist, these are not so much errors as new meanings generated by the creative potential of a moment’s confusion.”
More about the Matrix Project here