Mathias Poledna's new work, Crystal Palace, is a 35mm film installation comprised of a small number of long, static shots of the montane rainforest landscape of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Using tightly framed medium-close to medium-wide shots, the film's carefully selected scenes focus on the complex patterns, textures, and the overall abstract qualities of this environment, seemingly without human presence. Only subtle changes in light and movement in foliage provide visual cues to the passage of time. The film is accompanied by a dense and highly edited soundtrack created from on-location and archival field recordings, oscillating between drone-like noise and distinct insect and bird sounds.
Poledna's title, Crystal Palace, evokes the glass-and-steel structure of that name constructed for the Great Exhibition in London of 1851, an important precursor of modern architecture and industrialized construction that was built to present the newest products of the capitalist economy, as well as exotic displays, flora and fauna. Poledna's work explores how meaning becomes attached to images and sounds; it creates a complex tension between a specific place, its cinematic appearance, and historical concepts circulating around it. In Crystal Palace, Poledna specifically references Sounds of a Tropical Rainforest, a 1951 album of staged field recordings produced by Folkways Records for the American Museum of Natural History to accompany an exhibition about Amazonian tribespeople.
Poledna's work is also informed by film history, particularly the interconnections between early film and popular and avant-garde cinema, as well as the history of visual ethnography. Unlike traditional documentary and ethnographic film, Crystal Palace lacks an authoritative, narrative voice as it investigates a foreign place through an extremely narrow focus and highly subjective camera framing. Simultaneously engaging with as well as collapsing cinematic conventions of narrative development and closure, Poledna's film explores the ambiguities and constructed nature of historical representation. - Russell Ferguson
This exhibition is curated by Russell Ferguson, Adjunct Curator, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and organized at the New Museum by Jarrett Gregory, Curatorial Assistant, New Museum.
Additional support for Mathias Poledna's Crystal Palace is provided by the Austrian Cultural Forum, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as part of its Art for the Environment initiative which aims to utilize the universal language of art to generate environmental awareness.