Guy Ben-Ner, Moby Dick (2000)
A sailor is mopping the deck of a large vessel when a fellow shipmate approaches. Both are sporting striped shirts and cuffed white pants. Suddenly, the shipmate climbs onto a wooden chair, reaches for the refrigerator, and swings the freezer door smack in the face of the hard-working deckhand, who collapses onto the tile floor. Such is the world of Israeli artist Guy Ben-Ner. His co-star and shipmate is his young daughter, and the vessel is their modest kitchen, which he used to re-create (and revise) Herman Melville's Moby Dick in a homemade video. "GUY BEN-NER: THURSDAY THE 12TH," the first museum survey of the artist's work in the US, will debut at MassMoca, along with two other shows, on May 23.
Ben-Ner's humorous and often poignant DIY video works, many of them featuring his children, make reference to the slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton while providing subtle glimpses into the human condition and the role of father and family. He creates them at home rather in a studio, so as to spend more time with his kids.
Navigating a similar creative path is "GEORGE COCHRANE: LONG TIME GONE," which offers original drawings from the first two chapters of a graphic novel created by the German-born artist and his six-year-old daughter. Cochrane's comic-book-like typeface and illustrations are paired with drawings, thought bubbles, and idea clouds marked by his daughter's squiggly handwriting. Each 24-page chapter represents one hour in a single 24-hour day. The concept might sound like The Hours meets Black Hole, but it's kid-tested and mom-approved.
Also opening May 23 will be "THIS IS KILLING ME," a group show of young artists — among them Whitney Bedford, Karl Haendel, Andrew Kuo, Sean Landers, Kalup Linzy, Shana Lutker, Marco Rios, and Joe Zane — whose varied work, though strong and precise, raises questions about the making of art and one's artistic identity. We get second-place medals won by Zane, charts that graph the life of Kuo, text-based paintings by Landers; in each case, the result highlights the creative process and the ordeal the artist went through.
"GUY BEN-NER: THURSDAY THE 12TH" + "GEORGE COCHRANE: LONG TIME GONE" + "THIS IS KILLING ME" at Mass MoCA, 87 Marshall St, North Adams | May 23–April 15, 2010 [Ben-Ner, "This Is Killing Me"]/May 23–January 31, 2010 [Cochrane] | 413.664.4481 or www.massmoca.org