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Jankowski takes wry look at human condition

"The Holy Artwork" involves a televangelist in San Antonio. Jankowski pretends to pass out at the preacher's feet, effectively giving the preacher a chance to expound upon artwork and God.
"The Holy Artwork" involves a televangelist in San Antonio. Jankowski pretends to pass out at the preacher's feet, effectively giving the preacher a chance to expound upon artwork and God.
Image courtesy / Klosterfelde and MacCarone, Inc.

Christian Jankowski, a German-born performance and installation artist, has shown his work in more than 10 countries, but the current exhibition of his work at MIT's List Visual Arts Center is the first large-scale survey of his work to tour the United States.

"Christian Jankowski: Everything Fell Together," which opened earlier this month and kicked off the List Center's 20th anniversary season, includes 10 film and video installations as well as 54 photographs.

Jankowski often collaborates with others -- including children, magicians, customs officials, artists, therapists, psychics and theologians -- and his work frequently involves a surprising turn of events and a subtle but engaging sense of humor.

"The Holy Artwork" (2001) is the piece that garnered Jankowski recognition in the United States when it was shown in the Whitney Biennial in New York City in 2002. In this 15-minute video, Jankowski approaches and collapses at the feet of a televangelist and remains there while the man completes a sermon about art and God.

This is typical of Jankowski's method, which List Curator Bill Arning describes as "looking at various social systems and inserting himself into them in a way that makes you see them anew."

For "Telemistica," the piece that was his major European d̩but at the Venice Biennale in 1999, Jankowski called popular Italian psychics just before the event to ask them advice about the artwork that he was going to make.

In "The Matrix Effect" (2000), his first show in the United States (held at the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn.), Jankowski conducted interviews with such famous artists as Sol LeWitt, Louise Lawler and Christo, then cast children to re-enact the interviews, putting the fame of his older colleagues into perspective and hinting at the agelessness of art while also highlighting the awkwardness of "artspeak."

The participatory centerpiece of the List exhibition is "The Day We Met," a karaoke installation in which exhibition visitors can choose from a selection of several thousand songs and perform them to the background of four Korean-produced videos that feature the artist.

The preacher in "The Holy Artwork" talks about art as an event, and nothing could be more apt in describing Jankowski's work. Jankowski deals with shame, eating habits, animalization, dreams and ambitions, and the nature of art as it relates to life. The result is imagery that has its own life in the ideas that it engenders.

"Christian Jankowski: Everything Fell Together" runs through Dec. 31. Gallery talks will be held at List on Friday, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m.

A film night organized in conjunction with the exhibition offers a screening of "Beaver Trilogy" on Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. in Bartos Theater (E15). This series of three films is directed by Trent Harris and is a result of an invitation Harris received to film a talent show by an earnest small town dreamer from Beaver, Utah.

For more information, call x3-4680.

Lynn Heinemann of the Office of the Arts contributed to this story.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 2, 2005 (download PDF).

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