By Alex Cupples
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art’s current exhibition, Present Continuous, is not a typical gallery installation. It involves sitting in oppressively dark rooms watching short films of up to 56 minutes.
If you are willing to persevere, however, and immerse yourself in the hypnotic stories covering themes of death, war and sex, the exhibition leaves a lasting impact.
The artist, Omer Fast, is a Jerusalem born and Berlin-based video artist who specialises in playing with complex narratives and repetition using documentary and cinematic techniques. He blurs the lines between reality and representation seamlessly to create all-encompassing narratives.
The installation itself enriches this experience across two levels of BALTIC with films projected across several different screens of varying sizes, all in curtained rooms with black walls and carpets giving the viewer a feeling of intimacy with the films.
Two German language short films are shown on Level 3, including a new commission for BALTIC, Spring. Spring acts as a prequel to the other film, Continuity, which is a disturbing but gripping tale of a couple who repeat the same situation over and over again as they engage with a succession of young men who play ‘Daniel’, their apparent son who seems to have died at war.
It’s difficult to understand exactly what is going on but the way in which Fast weaves together the story and uses loops and repetition as well as some surreal elements (a camel crossing a rural German road, for example) is so intelligently seamless. These films cannot be fully understood and they do not make sense but that is part of their appeal.
The films shown on BALTIC’s large Level 4 space also exhibit distorted and confusing realities. Shown on the largest screen, 5000 feet is best demonstrates Omer Fast’s skill in using interviews for storytelling. The interviewee is a drone operator who is asked about his experiences and the difficulties that have resulted from them. The encounter that takes place in a hotel room in Las Vegas appears to repeat itself, changing each time, bringing back the theme of continuity and the loops that Fast uses so well.
There are other films around the exhibition as well including CNN Concatenated, an edited video made from clips of CNN news reports leaving an ominous impression, and Everything that rises must converge 2013, a day-in-the-life documentary of adult film makers.
It is unfortunate that the nature of this exhibition means many will walk through without taking the time to appreciate the films. Dark rooms and corridors as well as anything over 5 minutes long can be easy to bypass but the fact that BALTIC have chosen to bring serious video art to Gateshead is exciting for anyone wanting to get their head around it.
Reality blurred with fiction. Sex, death and war. What’s not to like.
Omer Fast: Present Continuous continues at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, until 26 June 2016. Put it on your list of post exam activities.
Image: Omer Fast Continuity 2012 (still) Digital film, 40 min Courtesy of gb agency, Paris, Arratia Beer, Berlin and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv. © Omer Fast