Thousands of Brazilian soccer fans are cast on the façade of the Johnson Museum in an ecstatic explosion of color and rhythm, as French-born artist Stephen Dean’s video Volta marks the sixth in a series that has also featured video projections by international artists Haluk Akakçe, Maria Friberg, and Asta Gröting, as well as American video artists Janet Biggs and Jennifer Steinkamp.
As if lifting the curtain on an unfolding performance, Volta begins with a huge banner being pulled away to reveal a sea of soccer fans wearing the colors of their favorite teams. While at first glance we seem to be watching documentary footage of some sports event, we soon realize that we never see the field or the players themselves. Instead, Dean’s video focuses on the rapturous crowd in scenes that revel in the ecstasy of color and its almost hypnotic optical rhythms. As smoke bombs go off and clouds of orange and green drift toward the camera, we realize that we are not witnessing American fans. Filmed at several different soccer games in Brazil, Dean edited together and manipulated footage in such a way as to accentuate the flowing waves of color that can be generated by crowds of people. When fans, here, take off their red and white shirts, flesh tones seem to gradually take over the scene. Similarly, when spectators stand up and sit back down in unison, pass colorful banners over their heads in pre-planned patterns, and wave their flags and shirts in coordinated movements, the screen is awash in changing patterns of throbbing color, reminiscent of strokes of paint in Impressionist or Pointillist paintings. This interest in color and shape runs through Dean’s sculptural work as well, which also investigates color as a visceral and active agent of experience.
“Pulse (2001) makes no pretense toward documentary objectivity,” noted the 2002 Whitney Biennial catalogue, and neither does Volta. Dean’s video nonetheless evokes Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda films, which also featured highly choreographed images. It is this kind of coordinated engagement and subversion of the documentary canon which makes Volta meaningful in a multitude of discourses, ranging from the history of film to the history of painting.
This exhibition was funded in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art