Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave., Rochester, will premiere “Nosferatu (The Undead)” on April 22, which will remain on view through June 17.
The film installation by New York-based artist Javier Tellez focuses on cinema and mental illness. “Nosferatu (The Undead)” is the first exhibition in “Reflections on Place,” a series of media art commissions inspired by the city of Rochester and curated by John G. Hanhardt.
“‘Reflections on Place’ is a crowning achievement of John Hanhardt’s work as a pioneering curator of media art,” said Jonathan Binstock, MAG director. “He was born, raised and educated in Rochester. With his deep knowledge of the region, John identified three extraordinary artists to be inspired by our history, politics and culture.”
Tellez’s film was inspired by “Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens,” the expressionist silent film directed by F.W. Murnau in 1922. Tellez made the work in collaboration with people living with mental illness after a series of workshops he conducted on the subjects of vampirism and the representation of psychiatric institutions in film. Combining black-and-white 16mm and color digital film, “Nosferatu (The Undead)” was shot at the Eastman Kodak factory, Dryden Theatre of the George Eastman Museum and Main Street Armory, all in Rochester.
“We chose a vampire for the main character of the film, because we wanted to reflect on light and darkness as the fundamental principles of cinema, and to focus on those who are stigmatized by being different and condemned to invisibility,” Tellez said.
The mise en scene of “Nosferatu (The Undead)” comprises a film inside a film, juxtaposing scenes from “Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens” with additional scenes that the artist developed with his collaborators, who act as fictional patients in a set representing a ward at an insane asylum circa 1960. Tellez shows them simultaneously as actors and spectators of their own film.
This reversal of roles is a recurrent motif in Tellez’s work; it is a way to destabilize preconceived notions about the perception of mental illness. “Nosferatu (The Undead)” also mixes documentary and fiction, including aspects of the manufacturing of celluloid film at the Kodak factory. It documents a performance of silent film accompanist Philip Carli, resident musician at George Eastman Museum, who provides a piano accompaniment for Murnau’s silent film.
Tellez’s film projects involve close collaborative ventures with disenfranchised communities, such as psychiatric patients or people with disabilities, allowing them to participate in the creative process in order to produce a dignified and nonstereotyped image of themselves. Combining different approaches with filmmaking, Tellez opens a dialogue that provides a fresh interpretation of classical myths, private and collective memories and historical references.
“Javier Tellez is an innovative artist who has created a distinguished body of work,” Hanhardt said. “He has made a major contribution to the art of the moving image. His work is risk-taking and full of surprises, and is the result of a great deal of research, of really plumbing a place, its stories and people. For this project, he explores Rochester’s contributions to and influence on global culture as the historical epicenter of the filmic medium.”
For Tellez’s project, MAG is constructing a theater with rear-screen projection and theater seating in its newly renovated Docent Gallery. “Nosferatu (The Undead)” will be projected in 4K.
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