Mark Boulos at the Belkin

Red Alert, 2010, c-print on paper, 25.4 X 40.6 cm

The video exhibition of Mark Boulos’ work at The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery is worth a visit. Boulos, a Boston born filmmaker/artist who lives in Amsterdam,  “is interested in revolutionary ardor and religious ecstasy.”  The show consists of videos and photographs of guerrilla fighters in Niger Delta and the Philippines, Christian congregants in London, and a hermit living in the Syrian desert.  At first blush this work seems more like documentary filmmaking than art. But Boulos’ creative juxtapositions and keen eye for detail transports his work to a higher, poetic level.

“All That is Solid Melts into Air”, shown at the Sydney Biennale 2008, is a two channel play between guerrilla fighters in Niger Delta pumping up for battle and frenzied brokers at the Chicago stock exchange the day Bear Sterns collapsed.  On the one hand, we see guerrillas who fight against corporations that mine and exploit their land; and on the other, brokers who speculate on the futures of commodities. Symbolically represented is greed and it’s consequences. But how often do we so directly see – and by this I mean – “look at” these opposites in contra point. Clearly some of the guerilla footage looks as it does because of the difficult filming situation and the poor quality of video when dealing with rapidly changing light, but the effect is quite remarkable.  The tension of the radical digital light shifts around the movement of the guerillas creates a destabilizing and creepy edginess that mirrors the restless agitation of the white-faced traders.

To my liking is the video “The Word Of God” which investigates human interpretations of God’s language.  In the first piece, an older man is followed by Boulos as he ascends the hill to his humble desert home and then sits down and slowly talks of his life and his beliefs.  His language is Aramaic, the language of Revelations and Jesus Christ.  This quiet, spacious piece is followed by video of loud congregants from the Shiloh Pentecostal Church of London speaking in “tongues” as they pray communally.  With the older man, there is great stillness, even sadness; with the congregants,  rhythmic chanting and gyrations that verge on the ecstatic, all perhaps equally representative of a human idea of god’s language.

“No Permanent Address,” debuting at the Belkin, examines the lives of members of the New People’s Army, a Maoist guerrilla group in the Philippines.  Boulos talks with some members and shows then presenting their ideas to villagers as well as preparing for a possible encounter with the Philippine Army.  It is presented on three screens, enabling the viewer to see the audience and speaker at the same time.  Photographic images of guerrilla members, women and men, are presented in a separate gallery.

The wonderful effect of this show is its ability to demonstrate that in this globally connected world the right hand’s work effects the left hand and visa versa.  Whether it’s the language we attribute to God, or the god we make of money and power.

Curated by the Scott Watson, this is Mark Boulos’ first solo exhibition in North America and is on display until December 5. Upcoming one-hour conversations in the gallery (Nov. 3 and Nov. 24) explore the subject of the videos from a multidisciplinary point of view.  For more information, visit their website at www.belkin.ubc.ca.

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