Recently on view in the project room at Leo Koenig, Julika Rudelius’s Rites of Passage (2008) is a two-channel video installation about the fabrication of political persuasiveness. The video transitions between a number of interiors decorated with dark wooden furniture, painted portraits and star-spangled banners—the typical trappings of America’s political elite. In each scene, we encounter a different gentleman giving counsel to one or another of the potential future leaders of America. Fresh from their presumptive successes in political-science departments, the young men nod in understanding as they receive an education not available in schools.
The most important trait for a leader to possess, they and we are led to understand, has nothing to do with one’s political program; being a leader is simply about making people believe in you-a sort of performative alchemy that places aspiring politicians in a category similar to that of their counterparts in commercial entertainment. “The moment there is a flicker of doubt,” an unctuous, 50-something politico warns his callow apprentice, “the magic falls away.”
As a group of Rudelius’s more recent works, on display in the main gallery, suggests, the ability to exude celebritylike charisma is not just the basis for a certain idea of successful political leadership. It is also a central fantasy running throughout societies under global capitalism.
On residency in Guangzhou, China, and unable to speak the local languages, Rudelius realized that one of her best means for establishing common ground was to use stock gestures derived from mass-media culture. This realization gave birth to another video installation, titled Rituals (2012). The video opens with young men from Guangzhou’s working-class neighborhoods striking model-like poses amid the city’s bustling workday traffic. Later on we witness a woman standing on a small platform and singing into a microphone as spectators shower her with fake money. In both scenes, the roles that Rudelius’s subjects assume with apparent eagerness are drastically out of joint with material reality. The right to indulge in the fantasy of fame and fortune is the paltry recompense for the inequities of the current political-economic dispensation.
Glimmers of said fantasy are also apparent in a wall-hung grid of framed compositions, most of them photographs cataloguing glam, pop-star-esque hairstyles donned by the boys of Guangzhou. Scattered among the photographs are framed samples of another heavily sought after adornment-fake fur.
In an adjoining room of the gallery, two animal skins, presumably sourced from one of the markets featured in another set of Rudelius’s photographs, were arranged side by side on the floor. The skins themselves are authentic, while their stripe patterns have been applied so as to make them resemble more exotic hides. The trick, of course, is to wear the thing like it’s the real McCoy. When it comes to the dreams of prosperity fostered by capitalism, any sign of doubt and “the magic falls away.”
Photo: Julika Rudelius: Rites of Passage, 2008, HD video installation, 14 minutes; at Leo Koenig.