Artforum Critic’s Pick – Zachary Cahill on Trust Falls at Interstate

November 19, 2011

Jesse McLean

INTERSTATE PROJECTS 56 Bogart Street October 21–December 10

To suspend disbelief can be a frightening proposition, for the act forfeits prescribed boundaries of control. In her first solo exhibition in New York, “Trust Falls” at Interstate Projects, Jesse McLean puts considerable pressure on the structures that subtend our belief systems through operations that shuttle between the documentary and the purely pictorial.

Working in a vein that could be considered picturesque, Remote (all works cited, 2011), the first of two video installations encountered by viewers, draws liberally from the tropes of the horror-film genre. Nearly every moment of it is taut with impending terror: Ominous scenes include buzzing flies, an empty stairwell, a man looming in the shadows, and the silence-splitting ring of an unanswered telephone. However, the fear conjured doesn’t ever culminate in violence, nor does it ever really subside. Instead it becomes repeatedly reanimated in the process of the looping video. The second work, Trust Falls, is a silent and graceful film that records moments of suspended disbelief by way of facial expressions of those taking part in the time-tested trust-building exercise in which participants fall backward to be caught by their peers. Through the close-up shot, McLean captures in vivid detail that unnamable sensation we experience when completely and willingly surrendering control.

The installation of the two works might help us surmise the artist’s intent: Their proximity allows for a constructive bleed, as the eerie sounds from Remote color the anxious moments before subjects “let go” in Trust Falls. What is that we fear? How do we place enough trust in another human being that we might overcome the wayward projections of our imagination? It is a testament to the power of McLean’s art that we find the empty space of the video installation filled with an effervescent tension, whereby the cinematic play of light and sound induces an affective state that verges on the physical.

— Zachary Cahill