At the entrance to the Zurich Kunsthaus, in their temporary exhibition space is a compelling exhibition by Romanian artist, Mircea Cantor, Tracking Happiness. Despite Mircea being a man, everything about the works in Tracking Happiness spoke to me as the art of a woman might: sweeping, organizing the domestic space, protecting children, cooking.
The centerpiece of the exhibition, at least, the piece that gives the exhibition its title, fills the intimate space of the gallery with a video in which women in white, like angels, lyrically sweep away the also white angel dust that has fallen on a white floor. The women move in slow motion, sometimes in real time, at others their brooms appear to move at speed. They move variably in circles, straight lines, sometimes their sweeping movements are synchronized, at others they appear to be random. The camera follows them in close ups on body parts, longs shots, overhead shots and low angle perspectives, while all the time a soundtrack by Adrian Gagiu. makes the video haunting and other-worldly. As I watched Tracking Happiness I was mesmerized by the thankless and repetitive work of women in the domestic sphere. And as they toil, even if it is rhythmical, their bodies and identities are fractured, dissolved, rendered irrelevant, just as are their bodies by Cantor’s camera.
Vertical Attempt is a one second (looped) video, a child sits on the edge of a sink and repetitively cuts off the water supply with a pair of scissors. As the child cuts, so the video cuts to black, the sound is abruptly turned off, making it a violent and traumatic interruptive gesture. The child’s inability to cut the water supply, the video’s inability to stop him trying, and his obvious transgression of the space of the kitchen, sitting where he is not supposed to, doing what he is probably forbidden to do, makes it a disturbing video. The child’s violent cutting of the water is echoed in a framed discolored fragment of the masthead of the New York Times, Ohne Titel, 2009. The “York” has been removed, and the fragmented “The New Times” is mounted and framed on what looks like a stretcher for embroidery. The so-called New Times are clearly something of the past.
The press release for the exhibition claims that Tracking Happiness “addresses traces left and desired by our age of computer communication and electronic surveillance.” I find this summary to be perplexing, because for me, each of the pieces is about the very opposite. Each of Cantor’s pieces display the work of women in the home, work that is never finished: sweeping, child minding, cooking, and so on. To me this is an exhibition about the experiences of women that have been forgotten. Perhaps the attempted erasure from memory of these necessary activities is due to “computer communication and electronic surveillance,” however, I do not see this cause and effect in the works on display.
Birds on a wire is another haunting work in which Cantor hangs spoons on wires, like beads on an abacus. The resonance of the abacus strongly suggests the desire, yet impossibility of measuring the worth of something (or even someone) by moving spoons across wires. The spoons are wooden, and steel, and silver, and have been visibly pierced in preparation for threading on to the wire. This disconcerting placement of spoons on a structure not made for them echoed the violence of the boy repetitively cutting the water supply from the edge of the sink. On the floor below the spoons, grains of wheat are scattered, grains that were perhaps the object of measurement. Or perhaps the grains are the fallout, the detritus of the spoons, or the birds’, transgressions – their violation of a structure not meant for them.
All in all, as the haunting music from Tracking Happiness fills the small space, the exhibition both enchants and disturbs the spectator. Whether it be about the traces of activities left behind by the advent of post-industrial dystopia, or a reinstatement of the forgotten work of women, Tracking Happiness will impact on you, ensuring that the overlooked sentiments and activities are brought back into the foreground of your imagination, if only for the duration of time spent in the museum.
(Images: Courtesy of the artist and Kunsthaus Zurich)