1.10 / Review

Endless Dreams and Time-Based Streams

By Jarrett Earnest March 10, 2010

Renée Green: sphinx bon enfant

Renée Green’s exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is very beautiful.

Let’s start there. The inevitable discussion of how much effort it demands is not very interesting, or at least not in the way such a conversation usually functions—as an escape from engaging with the art on real terms.

It’s true that there is too much to see, read, ponder, and enjoy in one afternoon. However, this fact is elegantly addressed by another: one’s admission ticket is good for unlimited returns, with no additional fee, for the run of the exhibition. This generous gesture encourages engaging with this show in stages, so that one may focus on a single part or piece at a time, allowing the texts, images, sounds, and themes to accumulate and make ever-greater meaning. When experienced in this way, this exhibition becomes very personal. Just as one cannot properly experience a book by picking it up and flipping through, this exhibition needs to be engaged like an exploded multimedia novel of great depth and beauty. It develops a relationship with the attentive viewer, and in so doing, actively undercuts the lethargy cultivated in the art-going public by the current atmosphere of blockbuster art spectaculars.

The large central installation Endless Dreams and Water Between (2009) consolidates the aesthetics that permeate the show, and focuses on, among other things, the correspondence between four characters about islands—especially the Spanish island Majorca—and George Sand. Sheets of Plexiglas with speakers attached are suspended in rows in the central room, softly issuing the sounds of water and words, or words as water. Brightly colored text banners wave overhead. Around the walls are framed accumulations of strategic, but inexplicable, ephemera, including book covers and excerpts from novels. After moving around and

Space Poem 2, 2008; previous installation of Endless Dreams and Water Between at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Photo courtesy of Free Agent Media and the Artist.

Some Chance Operations, 1999; video still. Photo courtesy of the Artist, Free Agent Media, and Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York.

gathering pieces of this concrete poem, I entered a small side room that housed three projections and voice-overs of the characters’ correspondence. As I sat, listening, suddenly one of the monologues connected—illuminated—a piece of the ephemera in the gallery, transporting me back into that room and adding another thread to the web of meaning being woven across space, time, and media.

One video splices shots of Green’s notebooks with cards of handwriting flipped before the camera. Among other things, these longhand intertitles reflect on the notes of ambitious, often unrealized, epic projects by filmmakers of the 1960s and ’70s: “Dreams in large and small formats.”[1] Simultaneously, one character speaks about George Sand, and the project of reading her entire oeuvre, notable in its size (some forty novels and eight plays).

Sand, a writer somewhat out of fashion, has become a central path toward my understanding of Green’s work, not just the excessiveness of Sand's output, but also her aesthetics.In analyzing Sand, Henry James writes that it “gushes along copious and translucent as a deep and crystalline stream, rolling pebbles and boulders and reflecting all the convex vault of nature.” This phrase perfectly articulates both the larger experiences of the exhibition and the specific aesthetic qualities of Green’s art practice. The materials she employs—words, sound, banners, paper, video— are spare and specific, translucent and elegant, like those wonderful clear sheets of Plexiglas intoning through the core of the gallery. There is nothing pretentious about it, or precious, or needlessly difficult.

Working through Green’s art requires effort; however, it is deeply satisfying. After spending a few hours in Endless Dreams and Water Between, which becomes surprisingly moving, I had the same feeling as after reading a glorious book, and the experience has stayed with me. To the extent that one requires an explanation of or questions the point of such an experience, Green’s work is about reading: how it forms us, links us intersubjectively with our peers, the world, with all of the past and the future, with knowledge and ourselves—as a deep and crystalline stream.

Renée Green’s “Endless Dreams and Time-Based Streams” is on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through June 20, 2010.


[1] Quotation from Renée Green’s video Excess.
[2] Henry James, “George Sand’s Mademoiselle Merquem,” in Literary Reviews and Essays, ed. Albert Mordell (New Haven: College and University Press, 1957).

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