Guido van der Werve: Boom Goes Chopin


Guido van der Werve

Like many feats of endurance performed as art, Guido van der Werve’s arduous trek in his latest film—Nummer veertien, home—is at its core a spiritual quest. A trained pianist, the Dutch artist drew inspiration from the 1849 journey that Frédéric Chopin’s sister made to fulfill his dying wish—that his heart be removed and transported from his Paris deathbed to his native Poland. Van der Werve decided to cover the same 1,000 miles, in the opposite direction, as a massive triathlon, swimming, bicycling, and jogging the distance in 20 days.

Occasionally narrated but without dialogue, the film (at Luhring Augustine’s Chelsea location) mixes straightforward documentary with sequences of absurdity, fantasy, and non sequitur, all of which might allude—if you need explanations—to exhaustion-fueled psychosis. The soundtrack itself, a lushly romantic requiem composed by the artist, suggests an ongoing dream. In the opening mood-setting scene, van der Werve (garbed in a wet suit) listens to an orchestra and chorus perform the piece in a church before he plunges into a river to begin his pilgrimage. But surprising us, the musicians keep reappearing along the route, playing in increasingly ridiculous circumstances, as if summoned to each location by the filmmaker’s subconscious, eager for an heroic accompaniment. Other apparent delusions of grandeur come by way of somber sequences, completely out of context, on Alexander the Great.

The artist’s suffering, too, goes from the physical to the metaphysical in elaborately staged hallucinations. At one point, he seems to explode, then runs, engulfed in flames, into a river, past the oblivious musicians. Later, after his apartment also explodes, he emerges dazed and, wondrously, tethered by cables to a giant crane—which slowly lifts his angelic figure into the sky while the orchestra, present again on the street, keeps sawing away at that requiem. When in the end he finally staggers up to Chopin’s grave, it’s almost an anticlimax, but his quiet satisfaction carries an affirmation of life.

In the earlier films (at the gallery’s Bushwick space), other earnest acts of engagement convey a defiance of mortality. A ballerina dances at night in a park, so engrossed that she doesn’t notice the cold or a tree that crashes down behind her. In another short, the artist himself stands, freezing, at the Geographic North Pole for 24 hours, the only soul not rotating around the earth’s axis and therefore conceptually outside of time. In his best-known work, van der Werve walks across a stretch of desolate, frozen sea while an icebreaker stalks closely behind, like the looming presence of death. Sometimes tedious but always cinematically rich, the work might test your patience, but the rewards are those of meditation. Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th Street (through October 20), 212-206-9100; 25 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn (through December 16), 718-386-2746,

Kelly Heaton: ‘The Parallel Series’

Stand before the dense tangle of circuitry that forms Kelly Heaton’s marvelous Spout Run at Dusk, and you will experience a gentle back-porch moment in the country. Inside a modest frame, a complex electronic assembly (resistors, capacitors, and transformers, all connected by colored wire) rises outward from a painted surface to evoke a shadowy thicket, which glows a soft blue (from LEDs) and emits the chirring of birds and bugs. Here and in other similarly constructed tableaux (a field of fireflies, a sunset behind trees), Heaton doesn’t use actual recordings of the wild but cleverly employs tiny noisemaking gizmos taken from old toys or phones. That delightful dichotomy—nature simulated, visually and aurally, with exposed RadioShack hardware—lends each scene a kind of magical realism.

In an adjacent room, simpler constructions focus on single creatures or ideas. On top of clear, accessible drawings reminiscent of children’s books—a crying bird, Jesus on the cross—Heaton has laid out basic circuits that create sounds or blink lights appropriate to the subject. In the margins, with outsider-art candor, sections of handwritten text describe her inspirations, annotate the functions of each little device, and even express misgivings over her engineering knowledge. It’s all rather touching, like pages from an electrified journal that chirps, buzzes, and—in one heartbreakingly fragile mechanism—actually breathes. Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 31 Mercer Street, 212-226-3232, Through October 27.