Neil Goldberg's work alerts us to the perplexity of being alive in a body in a particular place and time. The world is stunningly specific; our vehicle for moving through it is corporeal. Why are we here in this form? We will never be able to answer that, but the artist can catch us enacting the question. Goldberg makes us see how strange it is that we do what we do: eat, breathe, move, wait, feel pleasure, experience surprise, endure disappointment. In each piece, he concentrates his attention — and ours — on the act of attention itself. In the process, the unnoticed surges into focus, registering like the sounds always present in even the most apparently silent spaces — what audio technicians call "room tone." Charmed into noticing the distinctiveness of the most mundane details, we become aware of what Pier Paolo Pasolini called "the stupendous monotony of the mystery."
The main space presents three single-channel video projections. Salad Bar enlarges and slows down footage of people deciding what to eat for lunch. Ten Minutes with X02180-A maintains a steady focus on a lilac bush in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, noting the actions of passersby. My Father Breathing into a Mirror is a roughly life-sized one-minute video whose title defines its content. Each of a different duration, the videos loop unsynchronized so that we never see exactly the same thing twice. That combination of repetitiveness and uniqueness echoes the videos themselves, in which people perform banal actions in idiosyncratic ways. Attention is the subject of all three videos, but it flows differently in each. In Salad Bar, subjects unaware of being observed raptly scan food items that remain out of the frame, giving us the opportunity to watch people think. My Father shows us an elderly man whose execution of the artist's instructions allows us to attend to what is usually the least visible and least observed of life-sustaining acts. Ten Minutes foregrounds flowers as they grab the fleeting, slightly abashed attention of passersby. The emotional palette of the room — poignant, abject, festive, ridiculous, sad — is as complex as getting through the day.
The entrance contains Truck Drivers' Elbows, the exhibit's only conventional photographs, taken by the artist on his bicycle while stopped at red lights. Isolating what normally exists under the radar, these photographs transform a body part into a self-sufficient whole, available for the viewer's projections.
The sounds of a flamenco ensemble pull visitors down the stairs to the project room where Pilar Rioja Dancing in My Studio plays on a 14-inch monitor divided into quadrants. One is empty; each of the other three presents unedited footage shot simultaneously by Goldberg and filmmakers Eva Vives and Peter Sollett. Where Goldberg's other works magnify the unremarkable, this work takes the opposite approach. The larger-than-life performance, ironically offered as the show's smallest piece, transports the renowned flamenco artist to a 300-square foot room on the Lower East Side. Her extraordinary presence there mirrors Goldberg's ongoing use of that ordinary space to create his work, much of it visible on the walls as she performs.
The pieces in Room Tone create a formally pleasurable interplay between sound and silence, motion and stillness, reduction and magnification. An overarching aesthetic of restraint and plenitude, directed at acts that typically go unnoticed, charges us to concentrate on what usually we experience only fleetingly: life's richness, complexity, and persistent underlying strangeness..
Adapted text by Sharon Marcus, originally published for the exhibition Room Tone at Sara Meltzer Gallery in autumn 2006.
Neil Goldberg has been exhibiting his work since 1992 at venues including The Museum of Modern Art (where it was recently acquired for the permanent collection); The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum; The New Museum of Contemporary Art; The Wexner Center for the Arts; The Hammer Museum; The Kitchen; The New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center; The Pacific Film Archive; Kunstlerhaus Mousonturm Frankfurt; Neue Gesellschaft fuer bildende Kunst Berlin; El Centro de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona; El Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporaneo Mexico City; and the British Film Institute. Goldberg’s work has been supported by fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Experimental Television Center, CEC ArtsLink, and the MacDowell Colony, among others.
Works by Neil Goldberg are courtesy Sara Meltzer Gallery, New York.