Exhibition is Part of a Major, Multi-Venue Collaboration to Present the Work of the late Ellen Cantor in Fall 2016
80WSE Gallery at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development will present “Ellen Cantor: Are You Ready For Love?” as part of citywide series of concurrent exhibitions and public programs designed to showcase the work of artist Ellen Cantor (1961-2013).
The full program will run from September to November 2016, with exhibitions also taking place at locations throughout New York, including Foxy Production, Maccarone, and Participant Inc, as well as public programs hosted by Skowhegan, and a screening of video works at Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI). The world premiere of Cantor’s film Pinochet Porn (2008-2016) will take place at The Museum of Modern Art. This unprecedented collaboration between organizing venues and the Estate of Ellen Cantor seeks to open dialogue surrounding Cantor’s multifaceted and groundbreaking work.
“Ellen Cantor: Are You Ready for Love?” focuses on Cantor’s sustained investment in narrative and more specifically her appropriation and alteration of existing female protagonists as a means of autobiography. The exhibition will present a wide range of drawings including monumental wall-size works on canvas, hand drawn books and works on paper, Cantor’s iconic video Within Heaven and Hell, and an installation combining the storyboards and segments of her film Pinochet Porn. The exhibition runs through Saturday, November 12 at 80WSE Gallery, located at 80 Washington Square East, between West 4th Street and Washington Place.
A highly respected feminist artist who emerged during the 1990s, Cantor made significant contributions to contemporary art in the fields of drawing, video art, film, painting, sculpture, as well as writing, and curating exhibitions and screenings, garnering critical acclaim and notoriety—particularly in her dual hometowns of London and New York. A vast majority of her work explored the relationship between fiction and life, the simultaneous presence of goodness and evil, and the role of the female protagonist—as depicted in popular culture as well as manifested in her own personal life. Throughout her career, she remained concerned with the appropriation and representation of these protagonists as a means of autobiography.
Cantor created a sprawling body of early work in video, pioneering a unique format, which often involved dismantling icons of cinema, using footage from multiple film sources to create new works through a highly stylized process of editing. Many of Cantor’s videos, most notably Within Heaven and Hell (1996), for which she combined Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, retain little original synched sound from their source material, and instead were accompanied by intimate narrative texts, written and recorded by Cantor as a soundtrack. These videos hover in uncanny space, in which appropriated sources retain their original identity, while simultaneously functioning in the radically reinvented roles that Cantor created. This body of video work evidences the critical process of illuminating and obscuring, overlapping and revealing, which permeated Cantor’s work across multiple disciplines.
Early in her career, Cantor assiduously studied both fairy tales and Disney films, revisiting her childhood fascination, and meditating upon their impact on adult lives. The intended naiveté of Disney’s female characters, including Snow White and Cinderella, was outweighed for Cantor by their prominence as the stories’ protagonists, and the subsequent sense of empowerment she drew from them at an early age. The sexually explicit work for which Cantor became celebrated—and at times drew controversy and elicited censorship in the 90s—centers around an exploration of her life-long connection to these characters, as well as their influence on her development as a feminist artist. Often rendered with obsessively overlapping lines that suggest motion, referencing early modes of drafting for animation, Cantor’s drawings retain a sense of wonderment, while simultaneously celebrating these female characters as the most fully actualized versions of themselves.
In 2004, Cantor completed Circus Lives from Hell, a series of 82 pencil drawings comprising the hand-drawn script for her film, Pinochet Porn. Filming began in 2008 and the project became her focus for the five years that followed. Her collaborators completed post-production posthumously, according to her instruction. Shot on Super- 8 film with overdubbed sound, the film takes the form of a soap opera-like narrative, at once tragic and comedic, chronicling the intertwined lives of five children and their subsequent maturation into adulthood. The story reveals itself as a microcosm of the surrounding political discord, cycles of destruction and mounting violence, obliquely revolving around the Pinochet regime in Chile. Childhood fantasy is permeated by structures of annihilation, which the characters later create in their own lives as adults, pointing to the film’s central question: Is tragedy a choice?
For the first time, Cantor formally served in the role of director, bringing her drawings to life through a collage of live-action sequences, animation, found and historical footage, which together comprise the film’s five chapters. Fitting to Cantor’s exploration of autobiography, Pinochet Porn is not only about Cantor’s life and the lives of her friends, but also it is the active embodiment of her own life and the lives of her friends—effectively, her life performing her life. The cast and crew, and by extension the film itself, have become a document of an extended moment in New York and London avant-garde art and culture, representing a vast range of creative production and a group of artists, curators, writers, filmmakers, underground culture makers, musicians, and their children.
Pinochet Porn is Cantor’s most ambitious and complex work, reaching into every aspect of her practice while forging uncharted territories of experimental narrative film. The precision with which Cantor employs radical choices of actors, editing, stylistic references, sexuality, and found footage within an epic linear narrative structure amounts to a composition that defies genre.
For more information about gallery times and related Ellen Cantor exhibitions and public programs, visit the 80WSE Gallery website. Inquiries regarding the multi-venue collaboration and the Estate of Ellen Cantor should be directed to Lia Gangitano at firstname.lastname@example.org.