International exhibitions that attempt to chart the waters of contemporary art practice can often induce a glazed-eye condition similar to that brought on by loitering in shopping malls. But this inaugural version of a triennial show devoted to new photography and video does a far better job than most. With its (relatively) tight focus on 40 artists, and its broadly evocative theme—confronting “the stranger”—it percolates with curatorial ideas and introduces a host of lesser-knowns.
Since Baudelaire, at least, the city has been the site par excellence of encounters with the unknown. Shizuka Yokomizo’s anonymous portraits of ground-floor urban dwellers—shot through their windows, with their tacit consent, but without their meeting the photographer—neatly encapsulate the lure and menace inspired by close proximity with one’s neighbor. And Richard Renaldi’s posed depictions of leisure-class types strolling along Madison Avenue suggest personalities as elaborately constructed as any Barneys window display.
Estrangement may also be found in the bosom of one’s own family. Mother Tongue, Zineb Sedira’s touching video installation, explores the language gap between her Algerian mother (who speaks Arabic), herself (born and educated in France), and her young daughter (raised in England). The ability to communicate reaches back just one generation.
Israel, perhaps the most photographed place on the planet, turns up here repeatedly, in art striving (with mitigated success) for political relevance. But the most moving piece to emerge from the Middle East looks elsewhere. In Israeli director Eyal Sivan’s haunting short film, still shots taken in Rwanda in 1996 are combined with a soundtrack consisting largely of radio broadcasts inciting Hutu people to murder their fellow Tutsi citizens. “Everyone is a corpse, and I am a corpse,” a young girl chants. “Everyone is guilty, and I am guilty.” There’s no greater stranger than the one gazing out from your own mirror.