Advertisement

Stanya Kahn

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, USA

Everything’s going to the wrong places, and it comes out gibberish,’ says Stanya Kahn’s mother of the artist’s ageing grandmother, in her new hour-long film, Stand in the Stream (2011–17). Both Kahn’s mother and grandmother suffered from dementia toward the ends of their lives and if sometimes, connections got made, increasingly often they didn’t. It is tough to watch, because who knows what it’s like inside the brain of a person for whom common language has broken down? The film seems to mediate against exactly this kind of isolating loss of sense, drawing an embattled continuity between the generations of the artist’s own family and through a succession of activist movements, and doing so across a frenzy of personal clips in some half-dozen formats. The montage is loose and rhythmic, but also uneven; a sound mix (produced in collaboration with Alexia Riner), almost danceable at times, cuts out abruptly. Stand in the Stream never relaxes into continuity for very long. It is not a timeline. Kahn’s mother appears in different states of decline, achronologically, then passes away; her son grows up quickly.

streamstill_momfinger-cmyk.jpg

Stanya Kahn, Stand In The Stream, 2011-2017, HD color video stereo sound. Courtesy: the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles, USA

Stanya Kahn, Stand In The Stream (still), 2011-2017, HD color video stereo sound. Courtesy: the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles

The film’s credits insist, and the gallery materials reiterate, that all footage is either filmed live or made up of screen-captures of live streams – which is to say: Stanya Kahn Was There. In a world of mindless image feeds, the camera’s witness can feel impersonal and diluted. Stand in the Stream reasserts a certain démodé documentary aspect of the photographic image: a first-person authority also claimed by citizen videographers of, say, police murders of black men. It bears repeating that when you watch a live stream
of a line of police advancing through the brown grass at Standing Rock, there’s a real body within range of their riot batons.

kahn_365_standinthestreamvideostill10_snap.jpg

Stanya Kahn, Stand In The Stream (still), 2011-2017, HD color video stereo sound. Courtesy: the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles

As a short, subjective history of protest, popular resistance and state intransigence, Stand in the Stream is a timely, topical film; Kahn has been working on it since 2011, but there’s no need to spell out why this is the right moment for its release. Yet, the artist anchors the film in her own family’s history of generational activism: in one scene, Kahn holds up a series of her mother’s books, which include an early edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves (1971) and vintage copies of The Black Panther newspaper; in another, the camera pans over a newspaper article in which Kahn, then 22, was beaten by California Highway Patrolmen at a demonstration against the Gulf War. Kahn’s son joins her at the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

lumphead.jpg

Stanya Kahn, Stand In The Stream (still), 2011-2017, HD color video stereo sound. Courtesy: the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles

Stand in the Stream opens with snowfall through pines and closes with a rally at LAX airport protesting Donald Trump’s first Muslim ban. Throughout, Kahn sets the ebb and flow of political humanism against the wider, inevitable rhythms of birth and death. But, again, Kahn avoids the salve of resolution, even an aesthetic one – and the film’s many beautiful moments are also its most jarring. Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D (c.1680) plays over a montage of the artist’s mother’s funeral rites and a drive through a brightly lit motorway tunnel. Another quick, almost irreverent sequence lines up footage of dirt filling Kahn’s mother’s grave; a squirrel burying a nut; the artist pulling at a root;  or rinsing off the placenta from her son’s birth with a garden hose. It’s an absurd, discontinuous and gut-wrenching witness – a brief laugh gulping down an epochal sob. Ditto the imagistic continuity between a live stream of police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades at demonstrators in Ferguson and the green and black night vision shots of the 1991 bombing of Baghdad, one of the first live streams of war. It’s so senseless, it’s profound. 

Stanya Kahn, Stand In The Stream (still), 2011-2017, HD color video stereo sound. Courtesy: the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles

Travis Diehl is a writer based in Los Angeles, USA, and is a recipient of the Creative Capital / Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant. 

Issue 188

First published in Issue 188

June - August 2017
Advertisement

Most Read

With authors, curators and musicians recently denied entry, the UK is fast painting itself as a cultural pariah
Why does the ‘men’s rights’ guru to the alt-right surround himself with Soviet-era memorabilia, which he doesn’t even...
Alongside a centuries-old collection of Old Masters, Delftware and Chinoiserie, the Devonshires continue to commission...
In a Victorian-era baths in Glasgow, the artist stages her largest performance project to date, featuring a 24-woman...
In further news: UK class gap impacting young people’s engagement with the arts; Uffizi goes digital; British Museum...
Italian politicians want to censor the artist’s poster for a sailing event, which reads ‘We’re all in the same boat’
A newly-published collection of the artist’s journals allows silenced voices to speak
The arrest of the photojournalist for ‘provocative comments’ over Dhaka protests makes clear that personal liberty...
The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to...
‘We need more advocates across gender lines and emphatic leaders in museums and galleries to create inclusive,...
In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following...
Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
The first public exhibition of a 15th-century altar-hanging prompts the question: who made it?
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018