Eight weeks into Greater New York Cinema, P.S.1’s 20-week sidebar highlighting the past five years in film and video, comes a reprise of Brooklyn-based Jessie Stead’s 2006 “structuralist road movie,” Foggy Mountains Breakdown More than Non-Foggy Mountains. The title refers to the blistering 1949 banjo instrumental by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” which is iconic hillbilly Americana, and used as the score to Bonnie and Clyde‘s car chases. Stead’s film is a chase of sorts: the personal pursues the universal, as Stead mixes enigmatic diaristic texts and Super-8 footage of globetrotting dalliances with renditions of the infinitely diffuse song: the original recording; MIDI versions found online; abstracted covers and antecedents, composed and performed by the famous and non-famous alike.
STILL FROM FOGGY MOUNTAINS BREAKDOWN MORE THAN NON-FOGGY MOUNTAINS, COURTESY THE ARTIST.
Foggy Mountains misleadingly introduces itself as a stream-of-consciousness hodgepodge: a demolished compact disc in a wig, buzzing animated dots as the visual embodiment of sound, long scrolling texts whose densities of philosophical and trippy insights compete with the complexities of the rollicking bluegrass tune. Iterated, the sequence of individually inexplicable parts congeals, carefully formulated and irrepressibly consistent. Deep into the 59-minute film scrolls the definition of “breakdown”-to lose it, or musically, to really go for it, as when one instrumentalist breaks away from others to solo. Taking the film as a band made up of instruments used in filmmaking-sound, image, text and speech to name a few-each breaks down in both ways, at times soaring above the others, at other times deteriorating into poetic confusion, only to be reintegrated into the master structure and born anew.
Stead explains, “in a way the film was made with byproducts of my life. I was working on ‘Foggy’ accidentally for years, but didn’t realize it until a ‘structure’ interrupted.” Another work by the artist engages in similarly paced, unhurried experiments using material gathered from life. Huge Flag is a 12-minute video exploring the landscape-like contours of a parachute-sized American flag as its used as a communal toy on July 4, 2007. Huge Flag also marks the start of a 10-year, 10-part project that has and will be shot on each subsequent Independence Day to capture wherever she is and whatever she is doing, as a stoic but inextricably autobiographical ritual based on observing national ritual.
FOGGY MOUNTAINS… SCREENS THROUGH JULY 12, AT 3 PM. AN ARTIST TALK WILL FOLLOW ON JULY 10. MOMA PS1 IS LOCATED AT 22–25 JACKSON AVENUE, QUEENS, NEW YORK.