Unsettling and sometimes confusing: The video art of Omar Fast / by KirstenStudio

Considering that this evening was the final day of the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, it was probably not the best night to see the Omar Fast Nostalgia installation. I, however, was not only unaware that O'Keefe's last day at the Whitney was January 15th, but that the occasion would bring so many last minute fans to get in their visit.omar-fast_nostalgia_ii-1

After a 40 minute line around the block, I was able to see Mr. Fast's video exhibit with relative ease.  I had read an outstanding review in the New York Times, entitled Is It Reality or Fantasy, The Boundaries are Blurred about both of Omar Fast's exhibits in town.  One at the Whitney and the other at Postmasters gallery.

The Whitney installation existed of three videos presentations.  One at the entry of the Nostalgia exhibit where a man setting up an animal trap with sticks and string or twine is accompanied by subtitled voice over narration on how to assemble the trap itself.  At the very end of the video there is a short clip of someone against a green screen, setting up the same trap on a table.

The second video takes us to two screens side by side.  Each screen shows a medium shot of an actor reenacting an actual interview that Fast conducted (according to the exhibit program).  On one screen a Nigerian man is answering questions.  The other screen shows an over the shoulder shot of the Nigerian man and a medium shot of a Caucasian guy  (representing an American filmmaker, Fast - again according to the program) asking the man for details of his childhood and his country's environment among other things.  Their exchange is uncomfortable in that the filmmaker remains in an authorative sort of position over the Nigerian man most of the time. Much of how the the filmmaker responds toward the man's answers are demeaning in tone.  The only instance that I could tell the table turned momentarily is when the Nigerian man asked the interviewer if he'd ever been to Africa.  The filmmaker admits he hadn't.  The interviewee explains in detail the trap construction that the man in the first video is setting up.  The interviewee in the second video is also the voice over from the first, implying that film and video are greatly manipulated forms from filming and performance to editing to displaying.

The third installment is a 32:48 minute HD projected video (transferred from Super 16mm film) that takes up a wall in a small screening room.  More of a narrative than the previous two, the story depicts fictional characters in a time when British immigrants illegally cross the border into a wealthy African country.  In one scenario a poor white janitor works at a wealthy African school.  A reverse immigrant story of what we're used to witnessing.  Later he is being questioned by an African female government official.  The costuming, props and set reflects circa 1970's which I took to imply these issues to be timeless, but I'm guessing here.  There is also a scene in the classroom where a young girl gives instruction on how to assemble a trap.  This trap is the same as explained in the first and second video and then later by the janitor during his interrogation.  In my estimation the trap instructions are a thread that carry the major theme of the whole installation.  In the second and third videos, there are scenes where one character has definite power over the other.  Sometimes those roles are temporarily reversed, but the idea I think is that everyone faces entrapment and the videos themselves are traps.  The viewers are manipulated as the videos unfold.

I am quite certain I didn't follow all the layers of these videos. I've most certainly deconstructed them from my own perspective and those ideas don't necessarily reflect what Mr. Fast might say about Nostalgia, but what I personally found most interesting in this exhibit (and I am new to the work of Omar Fast, but I understand it's a running theme) is his interest in how media plays with and controls it's audience by the way it presents information or fictionalizes it for it's own purpose.  Mr. Fast seems to suggest that of course recording is a manipulation in and of itself, but the creation and delivery of that media in reference to social issues and politics is a very powerful tool we are greatly exposed to every day without much thought.  Mr. Fast however gives this idea a lot of thought.  For me, Nostalgia was unsettling and sometimes confusing, but definitely engaging and I imagine that to be much of it's purpose (The video even have a sense of humor).  We are to be uncomfortable and think about why that is.  It worked.