An anonymous man talks about loneliness. We can hear his voice during a crackly telephone interview. There are long pauses between sentences, but we don’t see the person speaking. Instead, we see landscapes of a city at night. The high rises are colorless and impersonal, and only rows of lit windows hint at human life. With each new shot, we zoom in on these empty buildings. We see a corridor, followed by a conference room. There are no decorations. The illumination is dull fluorescent.
“’Together but alone’ is very typical in a city the size of Rotterdam,” says the anonymous speaker.
Created by Holland-born artist Jasper Bruijns, the video is called “Welterusten,” Dutch for “Good night.” It is a typical sample from “Over View,” the new video installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MADC), which opened last week. “Over View” is a touring exhibit that features five Costa Rican videographers. This is good for the home team, and it’s exciting to see creative Costa Ricans featured prominently, but the exhibit’s real achievement is its diversity: “Over View” represents 47 artists from eight countries.
Putting together such an exhibit may seem silly in the era of YouTube. Why travel all the way to downtown San José to see a bunch of random short videos when you can watch pretty much anything online? What makes these particular segments so special that they couldn’t appear on one of Vimeo’s “virtual film festivals”?
There are two reasons to visit “Over View” – one a good reason, the other a great one. The good reason is that eight different curators have selected which videos to present. Each curator represents a different country, such as Egypt, China, or Australia. You could argue that an experienced curator knows exactly what types of videos to string together and project. Then again, you could also argue that an experienced curator is no better equipped to make this selection than any second-year film student with good taste. Either way, the lineup is at least handpicked by a human, and not “recommended” by an Internet algorithm.
The great reason is the venue itself: The second floor of the MADC gallery is rarely open to the public, and the room is spacious and private, like a secret warehouse. MADC is rarely busy, but this little corner of the facility is particularly quiet. There are both flat-screen televisions and projectors. You can watch any film silently, or headphones are provided for listening. You can sit on the bench or stand. The room has become its own world, designed specifically for viewing videos. The feeling is completely different from, say, watching online videos on your iPad while sitting on an airplane.
Since each segment is short, you can move from one TV to another with ease, sampling works from all over the world. Take “Frères de Rue” (“Street Brothers”), Hachim M. Sacko’s dramatic film from Mali about a frustrated bootblack. The youth is forlorn, because he’s desperately poor and may go hungry. The film is the cinematic equivalent of flash fiction – we meet some characters, we learn their woes, and then a wise man offers a solution. It’s a full narrative condensed into a few minutes.
In stark contrast, “Elle” (“She”) is an even briefer film with no narrative at all: A camera revolves slowly, capturing the skyline of a dense modern city. A female voice says “No” and “Here” over and over, until the lens finally reveals the speaker, a young woman leaning against a wall. There isn’t much to it. The film plays like a joke.
Alone, the “Elle” doesn’t have much to say, and the visual gag will probably earn only a smirk from the viewer. But if you are intrigued by an increasingly cosmopolitan, globalized world, there is something inspiring about seeing a Brazilian artist named Wagner Morales direct a film in French.
MADC is currently showing several exhibits at once, and most of its installations are of the large-scale, abstract variety that MADC is known for. They are all worth seeing, as much as any other MADC exhibit is worth seeing, but “Over View” particularly merits a visit. While most people will not watch the film cycles in their entirety, the total run-time is 240 minutes, which means you could view these shorts for four hours straight without repeating a single frame.
Art films don’t appeal to everybody, of course. But if you want to try a smorgasbord of different cinematic styles, “Over View” sure beats channel-surfing.
Exhibit continues through June 11 at MADC, CENAC building, downtown San José. ₡1,500 ($3). Info: MADC website.