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Perfect Stranger

By Ashley Knight

The first career survey of the work of Miami-based artist Dara Friedman will open on November 3 at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Organized by curator René Morales, “Perfect Stranger” features 17 major film and video works that combine the techniques and principles of Structural Filmmaking with a strong emotional charge and an intuitive approach to subject matter. “Perfect Stranger, Friedman’s largest museum show to date, also marks the largest exhibition of a Miami-based artist organized by the PAMM.

Dara Friedman, Dichter, 2017, four-channel HD color video transferred from 16 mm film, with sound, 32 min., 13 sec.; 24 min., 10 sec.; 22 min., 51 sec.; 24 min., 46 sec. Courtesy the artist and Supportico Lopez, Berlin.

Dara Friedman, Dichter, 2017, four-channel HD color video transferred from 16 mm film, with sound, 32 min., 13 sec.; 24 min., 10 sec.; 22 min., 51 sec.; 24 min., 46 sec. Courtesy the artist and Supportico Lopez, Berlin.

Friedman is a former student of legendary Austrian experimental filmmaker Peter Kubelka, whose work was a precursor to the Structural film movement in Europe during the 1960s. Her work unravels cinematic conventions, laying bare the materiality and mechanics of film production while harnessing the accidents that occur as light passes through lens and celluloid. The results demystify film’s illusionistic tendencies, while distilling uncanny fragments from the ordinary world and transforming everyday sights and sounds into the raw material for sensual-and often euphoric-encounters.

Dara Friedman, Dancer, 2011, Super 16mm film transferred to HD video, black and white, sound, running time 25 minutes. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, partial gift of Robert and Diane Moss. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Dara Friedman, Dancer, 2011, Super 16mm film transferred to HD video, black and white, sound, running time 25 minutes. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, partial gift of Robert and Diane Moss. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

“The exhibition at PAMM captures the intensity that marks Dara’s films, reflecting the ways she uses this intensity to reach viewers directly and at a gut level, with the ultimate goal of encouraging and fostering empathy toward others,” commented curator René Morales. “Dara’s work helps us to see ourselves and others with greater clarity; it pounds on the walls that separate self from other, and loved ones from friends and strangers.”

Dara Friedman, Government Cut Freestyle, 1998, 16 mm film transferred to DVD, silent, running time 9 minutes, 20 seconds. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Dennis and Debra Scholl. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Dara Friedman, Government Cut Freestyle, 1998, 16 mm film transferred to DVD, silent, running time 9 minutes, 20 seconds. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Dennis and Debra Scholl. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

The exhibition includes Government Cut Freestyle, 1998 which is part of PAMM’s permanent collection. This film shows young people taking turns jumping off a pier in South Pointe Park in Miami Beach into Government Cut, the waterway that connects Biscayne Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. The artist shot the footage so the divers’ bodies remain tightly constricted within the frame. As a result, the camera bobs and sways gently as the divers plummet through the air, each time arching over the horizon line. The film’s slow motion pacing and the steady, undulating rhythm with which the scenes unfold elicit a swooning, hypnotic effect.

Dara Friedman, Romance, 2001 Video, silent, running time 32 minutes. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Mimi Floback. © Dara Friedman, courtesy lemon sky: projects + editions, Miami and Los Angeles.

Dara Friedman, Romance, 2001 Video, silent, running time 32 minutes. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Mimi Floback. © Dara Friedman, courtesy lemon sky: projects + editions, Miami and Los Angeles.

Romance, 2001 is another film part of PAMM’s permanent collection. It shows a succession of approximately 70 couples kissing tenderly, playfully, or with passionate abandon in slow motion in a tightly framed composition. Friedman captured the grainy footage through a zoom lens while taking long walks with her infant daughter in a public park in the Gianicolo neighborhood of Rome. Each scene focuses on the negative space between the lovers’ profiles. The artist has likened this film to a nature documentary, as clinical in tone as a study of the mating habits of birds.

Dancer, 2011 is a film co-produced by PAMM. It depicts 66 people of diverse ages and backgrounds-from classically trained ballerinas to pole dancers, tap dancers, clubbers, capoeiristas, calypso dancers, yogis, belly dancers, and tumblers-as they move through Miami, using the city’s sidewalks as a stage. The musical medleys that comprise the work’s soundtrack are punctuated by the sound of city traffic and the dancers’ breathing. The camera moves alongside each person’s body like a dance partner.

Dara Friedman, Tigertail, 2007, 16 mm film with optical sound, running time 13 minutes. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Dara Friedman, Tigertail, 2007, 16 mm film with optical sound, running time 13 minutes. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

“Perfect Stranger” also includes Bim Bam, 1999, which is part of the collection of the Miami’s Institute of Contemporary Art. In two separate 16 mm film loops, one stacked atop the other, a pair of silhouetted female figures (both the artist) repeatedly step through a threshold, slamming the door in front of or behind them. When the doors are open, they fill the frame with either yellow or blue light; when they are closed, the frame goes black. The footage was filmed with the camera turned on its side so that the figures appear at a 90-degree angle from the floor. The sound of doors slamming plays on an independent track and is left unsynchronized with the projections, either anticipating or lagging behind the action.

Dara Friedman, Mother Drum, 2016, three-channel HD video projection with sound, running time 14 minutes, 31 seconds. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Dara Friedman, Mother Drum, 2016, three-channel HD video projection with sound, running time 14 minutes, 31 seconds. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Musical, 2007-08, part of the MoMA’s collection is another highlights from the exhibition. A total of 55 participants perform in the crowded streets, subways, diners and plazas of Midtown Manhattan while singing a song meaningful to them at full volume. The resulting soundtrack features a spectrum of musical genres, from Broadway show tunes and classic rock to a Kabuki ballad and a Michael Jackson tune, culminating in a rousing interpretation of “America, the Beautiful.” The singers are, in general, barely registered by the throngs of people surrounding them.

Dara Friedman, Musical, 2007-2008, HD video, sound, running time 48 minutes. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Beth Swofford. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

Dara Friedman, Musical, 2007-2008, HD video, sound, running time 48 minutes. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Beth Swofford. © Dara Friedman, courtesy the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York.

“Dara’s trajectory powerfully embodies the possibility that life as an artist in Miami is not just viable, but that the city can serve as a home base for a global artistic career,” remarked PAMM director Franklin Sirmans. “PAMM has always considered its aspiration to support and collaborate with the local art community to be one of its core values and a central facet of its mission.”

“Perfect Stranger” is on view at PAMM through March 4, 2018. 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33132  |  Phone: 305 375 3000  | www.pamm.org.

Ashley Knight is an arts writer based in Miami, Fla.