Fort Worth — There are a lot of ways to interpret art. As a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, Jackson Pollock and his ‘drip period’ works have incited numerous debates on the very definition of visual art. Likewise, composer John Cage’s 4’33” still has theorists and musicologists pondering the meaning of music some 67 years after its premiere.
These men, both pioneers in their respective fields of artistry, pushed the boundaries of conventional understanding in order to explore the reaches of their influence. It takes a broad scope of interpretation to approach their works effectively, lest you immediately resign to see them merely as children at play.
The same can be said of Jerusalem in My Heart. In a Fortress presentation at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth on March 7, the Montréal-based audio-visual duo gave a dense performance to a moderately light crowd.
Comprised of musician/producer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh and experimental analog filmmaker Charles-André Coderre, the project pairs visuals from 16mm film loops and projections with live musical accompaniment—a mixture of traditional Arabic melismatic singing and buzuq playing, with heavily distorted synths and other heavy electronic appointments.
When encountering this sort of avant-garde performance art, it is difficult to miss the overall aims of the project, layered as they may be. Moumneh’s musical themes are laden with cultural and political expression, while Coderre’s footage of dilapidated buildings and scratched up stills are disquieting to say the least. More to the point, the combination of these platforms works to unsettle the nerves and rattle the senses, forcing a reflection on topics like perception and identity, with a faint tinge of geopolitical angst.
Coderre’s filmography sees a rather maddening repetition of material—dark and grainy portraits of people in traditional Arabic garb and footage of urban streets that move through phases of bubbling and over-exposure to quick transitions of layering. Moumneh’s music relies heavily on its electronic treatments. His dense use of distortion and compression lends to moments of chaotic fullness that last just a bit too long. Periods of tonality and aural reconciliation come through as Moumneh’s lamenting vocals and acoustic instrumentation offer brief reprieves from the delirious intensity.
It is a project that denies convention on all levels, and instead, attempts to explore the edges of personal expression and artistic interpretation, much like Pollock and Cage. However, unlike Pollock and Cage, there lacks a necessary layer of finesse in execution. Perhaps it was the space, but the thick and heavy levels implemented throughout this project proved too large, and thus overwhelming. It was sensory overload in a most affecting manner—discordant soundscapes and darting, uncomfortable imagery hurled together in a full-forced ball of stimuli lasting just under an hour.
As a firm believer in the idea that art can take any form imaginable, I respect the abstract, the ambitious, and the avant-garde. It is concepts like JIMH that continue to propel the guidelines of artistic understanding in progressive directions. However, when the implementation of such lofty, unabashed ideas leaves one feeling too out of sorts to fully consume them, one has to wonder…is it serving its purpose, or is it simply noise for noise’s sake?