Stoners will swoon over Nightlife, a trance-inducing short film that Cyprien Gaillard has made for his first New York exhibition in five years. Shot entirely after dark, and in 3D, the camera hugs the ground in Cleveland, rushes past deliriously swaying junipers in Los Angeles, and soars over the Olympic stadium in Berlin, floating through the oddly delicate explosions of an annual fireworks display.
That’s a lot of territory to cover in just 15 minutes. Luckily, the mind’s eye can travel at the speed of dreams, especially when carried by a looped (edging on tedious) soundtrack of deep dub—Blackman’s Word by Alton Ellis. Sprawled on the floor of Gladstone Gallery—sorry, no benches!—viewers attending the premiere donned thick, 3D glasses and, even if they weren’t on drugs, appeared lost in space.
One was the 95-year-old Jonas Mekas, who is sighted in only one eye and discovered that the glasses improved his vision. Hollywood legends John Ford, Nicholas Ray, Andre DeToth and Raul Walsh also were one-eyed directors, he said. A curious fact that did not change my own attitude toward 3D as a gimmick generally called in to disguise a failure of imagination. (Like many experiments, it’s a lot more fun for the film-maker than the audience.)
In Nightlife, Gaillard justifies the technique mainly with his establishing sequence, when the camera encircles a single tropical leaf that elegiacally morphs into Rodin’s The Thinker, one damaged by political unrest in times gone by, if you read the press release. (Recommended.)
The artist’s continuing ambition to resuscitate historical sites or relics then goes blissfully unchecked, as he eroticises an otherwise drab and slightly sinister landscape where the Hollywood junipers dance like febrile voluptuaries shuddering with pleasure as they beckon the breeze and plead for ravishment. Ultimately, after an aerial sweep of Berlin, the camera returns us to Cleveland, and the mighty oak grown from a stripling awarded Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympiad in the aforementioned stadium.
“Since my teens, I’ve wanted to choreograph a ballet without humans,” the artist enthused, over a post-opening dinner at Blaue Gans. He insisted to tablemates Matthew Barney, Neville Wakefield and Daniel Turner that no special effects were involved to animate the trees or the fireworks. “It was all done in-camera,” he said. No one believed him, but that’s okay. Art is often better off when logic doesn’t get in the way.