A Little Heap for Dara Greenwald
Just a few days after the artist and activist Dara Greenwald passed away, a project to upload nearly all of her video work to Vimeo was close to completion. Though Dara had long been an acquaintance, I’d previously only seen the work available on her own website—largely pieces that documented non-media-based reative activism—and, a few years ago, a piece at CANADA Gallery that was an irreverent remake of Bruce Nauman’s Bouncing in the Corner, featuring enormous breasts as the point of humor and critique. That piece and almost two dozen others are now available on her channel, which plays like a variety show of ideas, politics, and aesthetic experimentation.
Greenwald’s videos all share a grassroots look and free-spirited core, but diverge dramatically in their approach. Taken together, the works give off a strong anti-careerist vibe: They don’t build, as such; they’re scattered all over the place. Some of these pieces traveled to festivals around the world, some were clearly destined only to be seen and snickered at by friends, colleagues, and compatriots. Others, like Evolution Revolution, “The Binding of Fenris” (2005), defy any obvious political or artistic reason for existence and seem to have been made for no one in particular. Yet this public access-styled tribute music video, featuring an animal-costume dance party, lets everyone in on the joke. Just as funny, but also gravely serious, is Strategic Cyber Defense: For Top Military Officials (2003), a re-edit of actual training videos from the U.S. Department of Defense, featuring very bad acting and scenarios that unintentionally parody actual international campaigns.
A portion of her work was created for exhibition, and much of that conveys a single message elegantly, like the silent, subtitled interview piece about labor migration in Serbia called What the Market Bares (2007). Each of the film’s subjects appears in a snapshot with a line that answers a question posed to them about what they receive from relatives and others who work abroad or what they bring back when returning from working abroad. The answers transmit impressions of this recent alteration in their lifestyle and the makeup of the town. The style looks adopted from advertising—each portrait instantly communicates a mass of assumed information very quickly, and the subjects only get one sentence to add to or alter the visual impression. Nonetheless, their focused responses accumulate into something more than a succession of tropes, giving a sense of how a single factor can complicate the feelings of people in a place in acute ways.
But most of Greenwald’s videos are much more directly political, and less constructed as stylized artworks than records of resistance. Her portrait of the squatting scene in Barcelona, Tactical Tourist (2007), celebrates the ingenuity and spirit of the inhabitants of a former Fascist police barracks by letting them speak for themselves: Their sewing projects, forages, gardening, and educational endeavors are all on display. It serves as a capsule of a time and memory, told by the people involved, in the tradition of grassroots media—an effortless reminder that community is still possible, and can take various shapes. Similarly, Dara’s videography of the Pink Bloque, Pink Bloque Actions (2004), puts a movement that she helped create into the radical history record without coming off as self-important. Documenting a movement that relied on cute pink outfits and hip-hop dance moves to get people to read their pamphlets, the film is a reminder of all of the fun ways to subvert the boredom that often attends constant protest and shows the small effects that actions can have on individuals. The same goes for United Victorian Workers (2006), a documentation of a hilarious radical action during Troy, N.Y.’s annual Victorian-era celebration, in which a group dressed up as exploited laborers from the time and called a strike within the event, leaving most attendees confused as to whether this clan was a part of the event or a disruption to it. The piece spurs dozens of ideas about fun ways to punk pomp and circumstance.
These and the several other pieces now available for viewing provide their own
documentation of a life dedicated to maintaining a balance of serious ideas and shitloads of fun. They offer a tremendously entertaining audio-visual introduction to the work of an artist, thinker, and activist who left us far too soon.
Dara Greenwald’s videos can be seen at http://vimeo.com/daragreenwald and http://www.daragreenwald.com/.
RACHAEL RAKES is co-film editor of the Brooklyn Rail and the Assistant Curator of Film at the Museum of the Moving Image.