Based On, If Any, Jordan Rathus’s incisive and wildly entertaining museum debut, at the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art focuses primarily on videos that playfully deconstruct and subvert preconceived expectations of both authorship and viewership.
Drawing on the materiality of film, Rathus dissects the conventions of the medium, and also draws attention to the liminal space in which film and art history overlap.
Rathus’s larger than life personality pervades throughout the show, and she stars in many of her films acting out roles as diverse as a game show contestant, an anthropologist, and at times even “playing” her own self. By placing herself center stage, Rathus also pokes fun at the idea of the auteur, and offers an exhilarating contrast to the mythologized and typically male dominated role of a filmmaker. Cindy Sherman comes to mind when looking at Rathus’s videos, because of the elements of self-portraiture, staging, and role-playing. However, for Rathus, gender is not as all encompassing as it is to Sherman, instead it is a constituent in a much larger whole.
Working from a Rolodex of preexisting genres, Rathus collages the tropes and specific details inherent to the styles and models that she alludes to. In Real Work/ The Game Show, Rathus deconstructs and reinvents the reality TV and the game show genre, infusing it with fantasy, nostalgia, autobiography, and a titillating wink. References to the French New Wave abound in all the videos, and this piece especially nods to Agnes Varda, notably the only female auteur in the movement, and her investigations into the feminine role and how it applies to celebrity and beauty.
The false realism of travelogues is exposed in Based On, If Any, a video that also provides the title of the show. Rathus acts out the role of a hysterical megalomaniacal anthropologist who is more concerned with her own image and celebrity than the Panama Canal that she is covering as a video journalist. Much of the hilarity comes from how little actual information is provided about Panama, and how much of the spotlight is shined on Rathus’s character. Interestingly, the location and setting seem almost irrelevant, since the flippant approach to anthropology, egotism, and the careless lack of understanding for another culture could take place anywhere. The poignant yet laughable over the top absurdity, along with the way in which the structure and style of the film is exposed through the use of music, and unexpected editing decisions directly references Godard.
There are also a series of shorts that are more gestural and spontaneous, like a sketch the fragmented idea expresses with immediacy and directness. With the more involved pieces, the improvisational moments are woven into the narrative. It’s gratifying to experience the quickness of the shorts that pack a power and punch. In I’m Happy For You, anthropomorphized, shots of trees and branches exchange niceties, small talk, and compliments as friends or acquaintances. By imbuing nature with human characteristics, she isolates and satirizes clichéd conversations and makes them seem fresh. Daring the viewer to reexamine everyday experience and find something new about it, Rathus achieves revealing the bizarre in the ordinary.
By Irena Jurek