Five From the Whitney Biennial Jesse Aron Green


How does a young artist without gallery representation show work in the Whitney Biennial? Visitors to the show certainly love an unknown pleasure—Ryan Trecartin’s inclusion in the 2006 Biennial was lauded for its Lana Turner in a drugstore-style story of discovery. Jesse Aron Green‘s artwork couldn’t be less similar, in look or concept, to Trecartin’s. Having been given a solo show at the Tate Modern in 2008, Green isn’t exactly the exhibition’s dark horse—if there is such a thing. Nevertheless, by producing a formally and conceptually rigorous video piece that interrogates art history, psychoanalysis, and structural film he could be  one of the Biennial’s more ambitious inclusions—and a find for those who aren’t familiar with his work.


Green has spent much of his post-graduate life (he received his MFA from UCLA in 2008) creating work in fellowship programs abroad. A yearlong residency as a Henry Luce Foundation Scholar at the CCA Kitakyushu in Japan in 08/09 proved auspicious in that, among other opportunities, it was the site of his first meeting with Whitney Biennial curator Francesco Bonami, who happened to be traveling in Japan while Green was there. Hence his inclusion, or so indicates the artist. Green is one of four former students from the Interdisciplinary Studio program at UCLA (which was established by artist Mary Kelly) included in the Biennial this year (Sharon Hayes, Emily Roysdon and Kerry Tribe) and his art practice follows from this academic background. Green grew up in the suburbs outside Boston, and studied as undergraduate in Harvard’s Visual and Environmental Studies program, a non-traditional art program that the artist describes as more an “investigation through making.” At the time, Green says, “I was interested in histories of violence, representations of violence, relationships to trauma,” says Green. “I made a piece, when I was 19 or so, that was based on the Argentine Dirty Wars.”
Green’s piece for the Whitney Biennial, Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik (2008), is an 80-minute video wherein 16 men act out holistiic therapeutic exercises devised by Dr. Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber as recorded in his 19th Century book. “The person who invented the exercises that I’m using is simply the father of this other person, Daniel Paul Schreber, who is a famous lunatic,” say Green. “[Schreber’s] memoirs were a primary influence on much of Freud’s early work on paranoia and sexuality. So [the piece] is simply that: tracing a legacy, tracing a history. Pointing to a prehistory,” says the artist. “There is a relationship between the ideologies of mid-19th Century German physical culture, ideologies of the mind and the body, to not only early Modernism and early influences of psychoanalysis, but in a way all of Modernism.” Beyond his conceptual and historical agendas, however, Green’s focus is on this work as it stands in conversation with other works of art. “There’s a real formal attention in the work to contemporary and historical practices of performance, video and sculpture. The piece very self-consciously deals with Minimalism—the grid—and Structural film. But these are not just formal decisions, they are also referential decisions.”

A new work, The Allies, which the artist just completed filming while in residency at CCA Ujazdowski in Warsaw, Poland, deals in part with the methodologies and personal biography of psychoanalyst Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, a well-known psychoanalyst who analyzed Samuel Beckett among others. “Bion fought in the of Battle of Cambrai in France in the Great War,” says Green. “I was excited to make this project in Poland, because of its deep history in relationship to world events of the 20th Century, especially events regarding trauma. The project takes as its subject the psychotherapeutic legacies of group dynamics and group psychotherapy, especially related to Bion.” In the work, Green puts his performers through their paces as though he were a military sergeant in reverse: instead of preparing them for battle, he’s recreating the trauma, in a way, using historical movements. Looking back is more than looking forward.