And now our feature presentation …
Curator Chrissie Iles on making 'Mountain/Time' at the Aspen Art Museum
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Friday, May 27 through Sept. 11
How much: Free
More info: Related events include the panel discussion “The Archive as Future Knowledge” (Saturday, May 28, noon) and a performance of “Itinerant Cinema” by Korakrit Arunanonchai and Alex Gvojic (Wednesday, Aug. 3); aspenartmuseum.org
Don’t expect to lean back in a chair in the dark with a bag of popcorn and passively take in the Aspen Art Museum’s ambitious new video art exhibition. It will be an immersive and active experience, according to curator Chrissie Iles.
“People may think, ‘Oh, a video show — that’s a bunch of projections on a white wall,'” said Iles, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, who put together the exhibition with Aspen Art Museum curator at large Anisa Jackson and assistant curator Simone Krug. “Absolutely not. Every room in this show is different.”
Titled “Mountain/Time,” the 12-artist show opens Friday and includes site-specific pieces made for Aspen along with work on loan from the Whitney’s holdings and the vaunted Rosenkranz Collection. It fills all of the gallery spaces on three floors of the museum, with galleries subdivided into smaller rooms so that each of the artists has their own distinct gallery environment.
“When Nicola (Lees, the museum director) invited me to curate the exhibition, the first thing I did was think about the site,” Iles said Wednesday at the museum during a break from the bustling late stage of installation. “Because large exhibitions of moving image installations like this one don’t occur very often, period. And when they do, we always see them in cities. They’re always seen in an urban context.”
She could not ignore the mountains surrounding the museum.
“As a curator, I feel that the environment we see an exhibition in really matters,” Iles said. “Seeing an exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum is very special, because you’re never not looking at the mountains — when you come out of one gallery and into the other, the mountains are there.”
Thinking about a show of video work, also referred to as “time-based media,” led her to thinking about the concept of mountain time — not the Greenwich-based time zone but the millions of years in a mountain’s lifespan, the local aspen tree root systems that have been here since the Ice Age, the ways the Rockies force you to think in broader geological time frames.
Iles’ preparation for this show brought her to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to go deep on local geology and forestry, to the Aspen Historical Society to study archives and maps, inside Smuggler Mine and to ghost towns here and at the historically Black ghost town Dearfield on the Front Range.
You won’t see that research on the walls anywhere in the museum in “Mountain/Time,” but it informed Iles’ curatorial decisions.
“Even the trees’ root system was telling us something about the ways in which the artists were working, actually,” Iles said. “And so that started to really tease out the works, and what their relationships could be to each other.”
The artworks explore identity, geography and culture, and as the museum’s description has put it, “ideas of re-mapping, migration, Black and Indigenous geographies, storytelling, and time, in themes inspired by the intertwined histories and geographies of the mountains and their ecological systems.”
The Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, for example, created a viewing room where the floor is made of soil and explores, in part, film-making and screening traditions of a region of northeast Thailand where outdoor screenings of films are part of a spiritual practice.
“When you walk in there, you can smell the earth,” Iles explained. “And then the walls are made of kind of fabric that he made with the staff here at the museum. … The projection itself occurs as an element within a larger environment.”
The Mohawk artist Alan Michelson has made Aspen movie screen-like surfaces out of blankets and fabric — one horizontal and one vertical — onto which he projects a manipulated and dreamlike version of the 1941 western “They Died with their Boots On,” with Errol Flynn as a heroic version Gen. George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn alongside a second film using documentary footage of indigenous leaders visiting the actual battle site in 1926.
“He’s really taking film footage from an archive and then Hollywood film footage and remapping history from an indigenous perspective,” Iles explained.
Other artists in the show include Maia Ruth Lee, who was born in South Korea, raised in Nepal and settled in New York but moved to Salida when the pandemic hit in 2020. The museum’s second-floor corridor is home to the artificial intelligence “BOB (Bag of Beliefs),” created by Ian Cheng. “Mountain/Time” also includes work by Doug Aitken — who had a solo show at the museum in 2006 — along with Kahlil Joseph, Kandis Williams, Arthur JafaTourmaline, Anicka Yi and Mark Leckey.
Clarissa Tossin, of Brazil, divided her room in two and included in it sculpture and video of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles, depicting its so-called “Mayan revival” design elements, alongside with footage of actual Mayan dance and music.
“The relationship between sculpture, projection, and dance and sound and music — it’s very holistically interwoven,” Iles said.
The much-anticipated exhibition, due to run through Sept. 11, had been scheduled to open concurrently with Gaetano Pesce’s “My Dear Mountains” — an inflated sheath-like work that would shroud the facade of the museum. Pesce’s installation has been delayed, though a collection of his polyurethane resin and felt works will still go on display in the museum this week.
Iles suggests that there is no one way to experience “Mountain/Time,” that viewers can have fulfilling experiences by exploring one floor or one gallery or by taking in every moment of every work.
“I think that you should give yourself lots of time,” she said. “People stand in front of paintings for, what, 10 seconds? 30 seconds? This demands more time but it’s very immersive. … It’s not like a movie where you go in, it starts at 7 and you leave at 8:30.”
Some of the works are more narrative than others, and one (the AI-based “BOB”) is infinite in duration. But spend any time in any portion of the show, Iles predicted, and you will start to find connections for yourself.
“Each work is telling a story and then the exhibition itself is telling a story,” she said. “So you’ve got lots of stories within stories.”