When she heard a story about 18th-century French political prisoners reciting poetry to one another in order to endure their incarceration, Stone Ridge-based artist Adie Russell was gripped by an absurdist fear of being trapped with nothing to read. She didn’t know a single poem by heart and felt she should learn one, just in case.
She decided to memorize Allen Ginsberg’s “America” by listening to a recording of the poet. This process evolved into her ongoing video series, the “Covers” project, which features the artist lip-synching to found audio recordings. “I was struck by how current the poem sounded,” Russell says. “The cultural references were dated, but there was something about the tone, the emotional and political feeling, that seemed to mirror the present.”
By displacing the recordings from their historical context and the associations with the original speakers, Russell both highlights the content and brings new meaning to the words. In Never Had More Troubles, she re-creates a 1967 interview between Merv Griffin and Richard Nixon wherein Griffin, referring to Nixon’s failed campaign for governor of California, wonders if he might be considered a “loser.” Watching now, in light of Nixon’s legacy of a botched presidency, these words take on a tone of comical irony. “Humor can be underrated in art, but I think it really helps people connect with the work, especially when it’s more conceptual,” Russell explains.
Russell uses the videos as a jumping-off point for paintings, drawings, and photographs. “The themes that come out of the videos, both in content and form, inspire me to make other kinds of work. They have a philosophical connection to each other.” She also often employs historical artifacts in her drawings, notably vintage postcards, which she “interrupts” by painting on them, burning them, or otherwise altering the image to create a tension of opposing realities.
The title of Russell’s most recent video, the most extreme perfect that exists, is a quote from the audio used in the piece: an interview with Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. In it, Bergman struggles to find the English words to describe the circumstances under which he wrote the script for his 1966 minimalist film Persona. Russell stands before a photographic backdrop of a flowering tree as sunlight dapples the branches. Her lips move in perfect sync with the stuttering words of Bergman as he describes being anesthetized for the first time and his resulting feelings of nonexistence.
“Its really about unity and dissolution—how, when we have these experiences of losing our sense of self, it can be a kind of relief,” says Russell. “And also about how when you have a lot of hang-ups about perfection, you can end up feeling like a dirty snake.”
The most extreme perfect that exists, a solo show of Russell’s new video, drawings, and paintings, will be exhibited at Roos Arts in Rosendale June 11 through July 23. An opening reception will be held on June 11 from 6 to 8pm.
(718) 755-4726; http://www.roosarts.com/.