In Translation

John Sanborn

Video Installations

November 2 – December 14, 2019
Opening Reception: Saturday, November 2, 6–9pm
Closing Reception: Saturday, December 14, 2–4pm

Telematic is pleased to present In Translation, an exhibition of five multi-channel video installations by media-artist, John Sanborn.  This is Sanborn’s first solo show in San Francisco.

John Sanborn is fascinated by stories. The ways they inform our understanding of our selves, others, and the world.  The ways they can be stifling and prejudicial.  And the ways they so often prove to be fanciful illusions in which we have invested too much authority.  But Sanborn’s work is not therefore cynical.  He doesn’t bemoan this duplicity in the stories we tell.  To the contrary, he celebrates the subversion of inherited narratives; and he affirms the deception in stories – albeit with a degree of dark humor – as holding open the possibility of their being told otherwise.

Indeed, in Sanborn’s work, our stories are always already in translation.  In E.A.G.E., artists Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle reflect on the story of Adam and Eve, echoing Genesis as an updated version of the original couple themselves, while also insisting on the need to talk about love in new and different terms.  And, in Mythic Status, Sanborn casts gender-queer performers, who he sees as modern day heroes, in the role of Ancient Greek gods, inviting them to blend their personal stories with tales of their characters’ “legendary” exploits and, in the process, to create myths appropriate to our times.

In this show, Sanborn extends his reflections on stories to considerations of the limits of language itself.  The sixteen-channel video installation, Untranslatable, presents a catalog of unique words and phrases from diverse languages without clear correlates in other cultures, juxtaposed to images with which they have no obvious relationship.  

In the four-channel work, A Pre-Existing Condition Sanborn explores the variety and ultimate incommensurability of forms of expression.  The piece features performances by dancers, Antoine Hunter and Lani Dickinson, and juxtaposes American Sign Language, poetically associated images, written phrases from a variety of languages, with lyrical movement.  Sanborn is interested in how the different ways that we express ourselves shape our experience differently, so that we tend to speak past one another, misconstruing what we’ve heard and, in some ways, remaining strangers to one another and ourselves.  

Indeed, as much as it is about stories or language, Sanborn’s work concerns our interdependence, and how our relationships are marked by impasses and inconsistencies that ultimately render it impossible to come to terms with one another and the world.  Who are we?  Where do we stand in relationship to others?  What is the scope of our responsibility?  Answers remain elusive, no matter how pressing.  Yet, in Sanborn’s work, the limiting difficulty of our dependence on one another, like the duplicity in stories, is not cause for despair.  It is the substance of life.  He celebrates it with relish, presenting obstacles as the source of the tension that sustains our desire for one another, and embracing misunderstanding – however perversely – as the basis for rewriting the story of who we might be together.  

John Sanborn is a major American media-artist, whose oeuvre extends from the early days of video art in 1970’s New York to the bleeding edge of today’s digital media.  His works have been shown at many of the world’s leading museums, including the Whitney Museum; the Museum of Modern Art; the Prado; the Centre Pompidou; the Tate Gallery; and the Seibu Museum.  Long associated with experimental music, Sanborn directed Perfect Lives, the seminal opera for television by composer Robert Ashley; and he has collaborated on a wide range of projects with other important artists, including Nam June Paik, John Zorn, Twyla Tharp, Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones, Peter Vronsky, David Van Tieghem, David Gordon, and the Residents.  A dance work created for "Great Performances" starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and directed by Sanborn won three Emmy Awards.  Sanborn produced numerous music videos for MTV, including works for Rick James, Tangerine Dream, Grace Jones, and King Crimson; In 1981, he designed and curated the video lounge at the celebrated New York nightclub, Danceteria.  In 2012, Sanborn produced PICO (Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera) a ninety-minute live “happening” at the Berkeley Art Museum, featuring eight musicians, six video channels, thirty-two dancers and over ninety audience participants.  Sanborn’s recent projects include, Alchemy, a large-scale video installation, commissioned for permanent display at The National Museum of Qatar; and NONSELF, an interactive video project, commissioned by the Jeu de Paume for their Espace Virtuel.  In 2015, Sanborn was named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture of the Republic of France. He lives and works in Berkeley California.

Image credit:  John Sanborn, A Pre-Existing Condition (a song without understanding), 2019, 4 channel video and sound installation, featuring Antoine Hunter and Lani Dickinson

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