Stanya Kahn at Weiss Berlin

Stanya Kahn

November 11 to December 23, 2016

Weiss Berlin
Bundesallee 221
10719 Berlin     

“All of this was made with a lot of pleasure despite various feelings 
of terror, grief and worry. El Niño never came, the cops shot over 500
people, demonization of the other is at an all-time high, the planet is
choking, my mom died. And now Trump. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
No more icebergs. This is just the tip of death’s boney middle finger. If I
could say one thing, I’d tell you that scientifically speaking, snakes only
ever eat their own tails when they are having a severe anxiety attack due to 
heatstroke. They are self-destructing in a hot panic. While the image of a
snake eating it’s tail has been used to refer to the cyclical nature of life
and death, to eternity and the infinite in many cultures—from Greek, Indian,
Norse and South American mythology to systems of thought in Alchemy and Yoga—
the ancient Egyptian idea of a circling “formless disorder that surrounds the
orderly world and is involved in that world’s periodic renewal” seems to most
closely reflect the wildness of worry, especially that which is brought on by
hostile environmental conditions. Severe drought; the unregulated heat of
citizen disempowerment in a two-party system seemingly air-locked with no
cross-stream; love and family in late capitalism atomizing the body-mind
connection faster than you can say dialectic. It’s getting hot in here. Tail
in mouth, we are eating the wrong thing.” —Kahn 

Weiss Berlin is pleased to announce the first solo show of Stanya Kahn 
in Berlin. New and recent works in video, animation and on canvas continue
Kahn’s practice of using allegory and metaphor to complicate spaces between
humor and anxiety, irony and awe, dejection and concern. In exuberantly
colorful drawings and paintings, land, water, animals and barely embodied
humans staring into their devices, linger at the edge of exhaustion. In the
two animations, “For the Birds,” (2013) and “Yes and No,” (2016), power and
muted yearning cycle in dialectical loops. Two birds exchange deadpan desires
for escape amidst endless danger. A witch covered in penises jumps over and
over. Did she cast a spell to get rid of all the dicks? Or a spell to have 
one? Dismantling power is complicated. Meanwhile, in the final room of the 
gallery, the feature-length experimental narrative video Don’t Go Back to 
Sleep (2014), showing for the first time in Berlin, forms the darkly humorous
core of the exhibition.
With a run time of 74 minutes, Don’t Go Back to Sleep is a haunted
tragi-comedy that functions as much as a symbolic meditation on citizen
resilience as a metaphor for the violence of the state and the First World’s
rapacious impact on the earth, driving the planet itself towards impending
death. As medical professionals perform haphazard triage, mostly on each
other, in vacant housing, we realize the protagonists may be some of the only
people left: workers (The People) vs. the danger outside: the state 
(police/military/clampdown). In the tenuous relations between strangers
collaborating under pressure, darkly comedic resilience and regenerative
energy rise in small, understated human exchanges.  
weiss berlin
Shot in Kansas City, Missouri, in newly built homes left uninhabited
and unfinished in the economic crash, Don’t Go Back to Sleep follows roving
groups of frontline emergency workers adrift in nearly empty, end-times urban
and suburban landscapes. In a series of uncanny scenes, dark joking emerges
alongside efforts at cohesion and collectivity. Squatting empty suburban
developments and luxury high-rises, depressed with the aura of so many
displaced by the U.S. housing market catastrophe, nurses and doctors
establish make-shift treatment centers within the architectural mundane:
fixtures and countertops, carpet pads and exposed wiring, fireplaces and
crown molding. Untouched appliances glow dully in the market’s wake. Time
alternately slows and speeds as the characters recalibrate their stress
responses, suspended in the in-between of waiting, activated by uncertainty,
disasters already underway and the reverberations of decades of distress. 
Alcohol, cake and lunchmeat provide sub-par sustenance as the workers labor,
sleep and bury their dead.   

Further extending a video practice that allows fluid boundaries 
between the real and the fictive, between narrative and abstraction, Kahn
directs an ensemble cast of mostly non-actors to perform both scripted and
improvised scenarios in which their agency becomes central to the film’s
construction as they create candid dialogue. Her sound design, anchored here
with original compositions by Kahn and musician Keith Woods (of Hush Arbors
and Chelsea Light Moving), holds a central role in the language of the film. 
The edits and the cameras’ movements and fixations play with reconfigurations
of space, time, materiality, alienation and the overworking of Nature. A
quieter humor of anxiety seeks out the edges of despair while trying to

Don’t Go Back to Sleep, 2014 TRT: 74 minutes
Written, directed, shot, edited and sound designed by Stanya Kahn. Includes
original sounds/music by Kahn and Keith Wood (Hush Arbors, Chelsea Light
Moving). B Camera by Ignacio Genzon, Mike Soltz and Chiara Giovando. The cast
contributed primary dialogue. 
Made with the support of Grand Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. 

 “People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!” 
“When you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself up to
being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have
been the moment before. You have made a transition, however slight. You have
stepped over a threshold.” 
 —Brian Massumi, (translator, “A Thousand Plateaus”), from interview: 
Navigating Movements