A consistent theme across Omer Fast’s work are the many facets of trauma, particularly those which arise from the conflicts being played out across the western world today. But it is how he uses narrative tropes to explore these contemporary tensions that make Fast one of the most talented video artists working at the moment. A major presentation of the artist's videos, currently at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, is a testament to his layered and moving practice.
5,000 Feet is the Best and Continuity, which receive full cinematic treatment at BALTIC, are overtly political, looking at the personal fallout of western-perpetrated wars in the Middle East from different and sometimes surprising and uncomfortable perspectives, such as a drone pilot suffering from PTSD, and a bourgeois couple that has hired a rent boy to dress and act as the son they lost to war. In both cases we see a wider conflict played out in achingly personal terms, and the complexity of our reactions to distressing experiences.
(above) Omer Fast
, Continuity, 2012, (still)
Digital film, 40 min.
5000 Feet Is the Best, 2011, (still)
Digital film, 30 min.
Both: Courtesy of gb agency, Paris, Arratia Beer, Berlin and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv. © Omer Fast
In Everything That Rises Must Converge, we see similar issues addressed, although here Fast weaves together multiple narrative strands, real and fictional. The primary thread follows the lives of four real-life adult performers, whose stories intersect with those of an illegal immigrant who is raped on her journey across the border, and a porn producer recounting the child abuse that took place on the hippy commune where he was raised. The storyline following the adult performers discretely emphasizes the various dislocations in their lives—the gap between their lives and their work, intimacy and performance, and maybe even love and sex—while also treading gently around the fragmentation caused by the effect of technology on us all.
The screen is split into four quadrants throughout and in the final scene each of the performers lies in bed alone and interacts with technology—a phone, a laptop. This scene, and the incredibly powerful coda preceding it where we are given an uncensored view of the sex scene in which they performed, heightens the sense of disjuncture between them as human beings living in the world and the roles they play on screen. That these vignettes close with the performers navigating the very medium most people use to access pornography—the internet—for me infers that this action, this fragmentation, is acting on us, the viewers, just as much as it is on the performers.
Omer Fast, Everything That Rises Must Converge, 2013, Four-channel digital film, Color, Sound (English and Spanish spoken),
56 minutes looped. Courtesy of gb agency, Paris, Arratia Beer, Berlin and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv. © Omer Fast
There are a number of things I particularly appreciate about Fast’s work: its sensitivity, the occasionally stunning moments of aesthetic beauty, and the fact that the videos are looped in such a way that they’re suitable for viewing whenever you might walk into the gallery—it’s not by chance the exhibition is titled Present Continuous. There are, however, two facets that I think are particularly important. The first falls in line with one of those “it questions the conventions of storytelling” clichés. Fast’s work doesn’t deserve such an uninspired critique. It doesn’t question the conventions of storytelling; it offers a completely new, enthralling, complex, rich, and wonderful way of telling stories through video. I don’t think it cares about, addresses, or challenges anything else cinema is doing other than inadvertently. It’s too concerned with doing its own thing. Documentary and fiction collide.
In Everything That Rises Must Converge, for example, the adult actors are real people, but it is unclear whether Fast is a fly on the wall as they go about their routines, or whether they are acting for both his camera and the pornographer’s. Likewise, the story of the immigrant who is raped on her journey to America is related via an actress doing a dry read of a monologue in a studio. In layers of storytelling—“everything stands on something else,” her narrative begins—the actress periodically stops her reading to ask the director (who is named Omer, but not acted by Fast) for clarifications. She questions the embellished language in the script, which Omer tells her was adapted from a real interview.
“He’s raping her, isn’t he?” the actress asks.
“Yes,” the director responds.
“So what’s all the fluff for?...Why dress it up in fancy language? Why don’t you just say it?”
“What do you want it to say?” Omer asks.
“A female migrant was raped by her smuggler.”
“You think that works better?
Fast doesn’t throw narrative out the window in a self-conscious attempt to make “art." Rather, the story is built through overlapping, conflicting narrative expectations. These films are enthralling—I can’t remember the last time it felt so difficult to turn my back on a film in a gallery. The narratives are multi-faceted, blur fiction and documentary, utilize the disjunctures and reiterations of repetition, play with gaps between audio and visual, and confound all the accrued expectations we, as cinematically immersed viewers, carry with us. Yet still they never lose sight of the audience. They’re not showy or obscure. They ultimately succeed on a human level, deeply connecting you, the viewer, to the experiences and people portrayed.
(Image at top: Omer Fast, 5000 Feet Is the Best, 2011(still), Digital film, 30 min. Courtesy of gb agency, Paris, Arratia Beer, Berlin and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv. © Omer Fast)
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