benj gerdes

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Looking after David and Nelson in Black and White

16mm film loop, monochromatic video camera, video monitor, window with handwritten text, 2004.

Statement (2004)

This project takes as its starting point a nickname given to the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in reference to David and Nelson Rockefeller. I take their names as an ambiguous term referring both to a demolished skyscraper and the historical effects of state and city private-public partnerships from the Rockefeller era. In one sense, we are looking in a moment after the fall of those structures, while in another, the act of looking from this vantage point cannot avoid inhabiting the gaze of a security camera, the looking after of “keeping an eye on….” There is a third “looking after,” an imperative for you and I to attempt to steer the influence of rhetoric and events mobilized in the name of the site in front of us. In this piece, a mechanical apparatus of projection, observation, and display takes up the question of the production of the “fact” of 9/11 in relation to visuality, the moving image, and cultural memory, to propose a counter-memorial.

A monitor outside the space displays a live black and white video feed of “Ground Zero” out my studio window, while a projected 16mm film loop composed of black and clear plastic leader projects onto the same area of window glass the camera is looking through. The film loop borrows from the vocabulary of the 1970s Structuralist-Materialist film movement and its production of imageless “flicker films” made of alternating color or material, often edited ratios of single-frame increments to produce a stroboscopic effect. Here the use of an ersatz flicker film became a means of marking time and displaying a graphical representation of the numerical aspect of the signification shorthanded as 9/11. As described in the handwritten window text, I edited the film based on the continuous movement between two ratios, the first being the 5201 WTC Site Memorial proposals received in competition, compared to the final 9/11/01 death count of 2749. The second ratio places the number 500,000 in relation to 2749. This is a very, very low estimate for the number of Iraqi deaths as the result of sanctions throughout the 1990s and up to the start of war a year ago as a result of sanctions. There are many other numbers like this.

Initial exhibition: Lower Manhattan Cultural Council/Workspace Program, The Woolworth Building, 2004.

Two-minute installation documentation.


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Looking After David and Nelson | 2004 | projects