The inaugural exhibition in MMoCA's new Imprint Gallery, a space dedicated to presenting multimedia artwork, will be by L.A.-based artist Kim Schoen. Have You Never Let Someone Else Be Strong?Schoen’s first solo museum exhibition, will be on view to the public starting September 19, with an opening reception and artist-led roundtable discussion on Friday evening, September 18.
Kim Schoen, an interdisciplinary artist and writer, works with performative and experimental texts, photographs, and video installations. Her videos deconstruct the commercial landscape, exposing its mechanics, rhetoric, and established modes of persuasion—transforming attention-getting strategies into anti-climactic yet poetic observations.
The centerpiece of her exhibition at MMoCA, a 22-minute looping video also titled Have You Never Let Somebody Else Be Strong? focuses on the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Featuring a rotating program of choreographed water performances, the ostentatious display is set within an 8.5 acre man-made lake and is controlled by a complex network of pipes and nozzles propelling streams of water up to 460 feet into the air. Pulsing, twisting, and shimmying to the accompanying musical score and light show, the surging water is a highly visible tourist attraction along the Vegas Strip, a high-tech addition to the opulent spectacle of the luxury resort to which it is attached.
Rather than capturing the full panorama of the Bellagio fountains, Schoen focuses her lens on a small segment of the expansive water feature. Her intentionally limited composition frames a handful of nozzles sitting right below of the surface of the artificial lake. Materializing from the pool-like waters, the mechanized jets emit in a series of patterned bursts before re-submerging beneath the surface. Powerful eruptions alternate with comparatively enfeebled spurts. When viewing Schoen’s tightly cropped imagery of the fountain’s punctuated choreography, phallic associations and references to bodily emissions are impossible to ignore: the water jets become props, stand-ins for the human body in all of its majesty, comedy, and fallibility.
Schoen pairs her imagery with songs that accompany the Bellagio’s rotating water shows, but filters the music through an automated vocalization software program. A mechanical voice monotonously renders the songs into a soundtrack that is anything but lyrical; without melody, the words in the songs reveal their own flat rhetoric. This manipulation of sound, when coupled with the artist’s carefully composed imagery and selective editing, transforms this aggressive monument to extravagance in ‘experience’ entertainment into a more vulnerable site where choices are exposed and laid bare.
The tight framing in the video also allows for the artificial pool to reveal its micro-climates and variations; there are moments that become oceanic tempests, storms that clear into refracted mists in seconds. The unexpected intrusion of natural phenomena into this hyper-artificial space echoes Schoen’s other video in this exhibition: The Second Oldest Amusement, filmed in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens. In this short observational piece, the fountains are under construction in a winter landscape, and the grounds’ peacock unexpectedly ambles in to make an appearance, and perform his own display.
Schoen received her M.F.A. in photography from CalArts (2005) and her Masters in Philosophy from the photography department at The Royal College of Art, London (2008). Her work has most recently been included in exhibitions atMOTInternational Projects, London; South London Gallery, London; and Norma Mangione Gallery, Turin. Her work has been written about in the Los Angeles Times, Art in America, and her most recent essay “The “Expansion of the Instant: Photography, Anxiety, Infinity” was published in X-TRA, Quarterly for Contemporary Art (Summer 2014) Schoen is the co-founder and editor of MATERIAL, a journal of texts by visual artists.
Generous support of the Imprint Gallery and Kim Schoen: Have You Never Let Someone Else Be Strong? has been provided by Nancy Gross, Raven Software, and Hiebing.