Amy Granat’s interest in making a silent film version of Paul Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky seems to have been prompted by the visual atmosphere against which the three main characters’ turbulent psychologies commingle. The arid settings described in The Sheltering Sky inspired Granat to film her work in the Western U.S., in locations that evoke an air of desolation. Looped projections of Granat’s film, which borrows Bowles’s title, were the centerpiece of her recent exhibition.
Bowles’snovelis a story about love, longing and loss set in the sands and souks of North Africa, but the intentionally languorous pacing of Granat’s telling of the narrative makes it difficult to follow. Her version condenses the plot, highlighting certain moments of action. Port and Kit Moresby, the couple at the center of the action, who are based on Paul and Jane Bowles, leave New York on a long journey in an attempt to repair a marital rift. Tunner, a friend of the couple and the third wheel on their journey, is a loyal companion, an annoyance and, having fallen for Kit, a champagne-swilling seducer. Shortly before Port dies of typhoid, well ahead of the story’s fractured end, the married couple’s love is rekindled.
The main gallery contained two looped projections of Granat’s film (one lagging a few minutes behind the other), a video collage and stacked monitors displaying character studies, each a montage of footage specific to Port, Kit or Tunner. Colors are washed out at times by over-exposure of the film. Light spills, which normally occur at the end of 16mm film reels, puncture Granat’s sun-faded work with explosive luminous streaks.
Granat was careful to cast people with attractive, gamine features for the parts of Port and Kit (Paul and Jane Bowles, perhaps it is worth noting, were both bisexual). New York-based painter Jacob Kassay (Port) and dancer Flora Weigmann (Kit) seem to be mirror images of each other. Tunner is played by Drew Heitzler, with whom Granat collaborated on a film, shown at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, that mixes Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, present-day unrequited love and a motorcycle. Granat reserves the role of a prostitute that Port sleeps with for her own dramatic cameo.
The show also included Spills and Shadows #1-5 (2010), a corner installation of five abstract photograms, and Sun Quilt (2010), a large patchwork of nine similar photograms, which were made during the filming ofGranat’s piece. Their stunning, staring-at-the-sun retinal effects are woven into the visual narrative of The Sheltering Sky.
Photo: View of Amy Granat’s exhibition, showing (left) Character Study—Flora, 13⁄4-minute loop, and (right) S. Sky (V-2), 541⁄2-minute loop, both 2010, video; at the Kitchen.