Alanna Heiss and Jon Kessler Q & A


The Palace at 4 A.M. is Jon Kessler’s most ambitious project to date. Created specifically for P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, this exhibition involves kinetic sculptures, monitors, cameras, action dolls and imagery from mass culture. Kessler has exhibited widely in museums and galleries in the United States, Europe and Asia. He teaches at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and served as Chair of the Visual Arts Division from 2000 to 2005. Alanna Heiss, curator of the exhibition and director of P.S.1, spoke with Kessler about the exhibition.

Q: Jon, the title of this exhibition is The Palace at 4 A.M. How is that a reference to Alberto Giacometti’s 1932 sculpture of the same name? Or, why did you choose this particular title?

I’ve always loved that piece for it’s sense of staging, a thetrical mise en scene that was half play (contrived) half dream (unconscious) When I read about the craziness of our troops stationed in Sadam’s palalces and heard reports of Abu Graib and saw films like Gunner Palace I thought of that as an appropriate title for the entire exhibition, to evoke the insanity that happns at that hour when no one is watching.Also,  I’ve often stolen (sampled) titles from existing art works, books and albums.

Q: This exhibition is an expansion of Global Village Idiot, which was shown at Deitch Projects in 2004. When the installation is complete at P.S.1, will The Palace at 4 a.m. be a departure from the Deitch exhibition, or has the core idea stayed consistent throughout your creative process?

The core idea of surveillance,  mediated cultural experiences and anxiety is still present and I’m still creating special effects in real time to deliver this mesage. But the new work is more responsive to the last two years of events that have affected all of us such as the Iraq war and theft of this country from it’s people and its’ constitution. Technically, this show is different in that there are not 8 or 9 discreet sculptures. The play of camera, image and monitor has exploded and viewers will be disrupting those sightlines constantly thereby become quite active viewers / participants. The zoom cameras are acting like long range snipers and surveillance in that there targets may be quite distant. This work uses much more photo collage, cut outs and matte painting technique and is more image based than the Deitch show. There are also aspects of the show which include the neighborhood outsoide the building making the world outside into another prop.

Q:  This piece is full of mass culture imagery, from magazine photographs of war, to G.I. Joe dolls, to advertisements. What was the impetus that brought all of these subjects and images together?

It was culmulative. I didn’t start out with a specific idea and then searched for the images. I arrived at the images slowly and one lead to another and another and connections were made (and are still being made) The last piece that I added depicts a flooded city. But that said I did intend to detail the confusion, violence, fear, and nightmarish madness of the past 4 years.

Q: Let’s talk specifically about the piece depicting the hanged soldiers. Some might interpret this as unpatriotic, while others might perceive it as mourning. What were your intentions?

I prefer to put the viewer in apposition to have an experience which might or might not question their positions in a potentially critical position.

Q: Your depictions of women seem particularly fragmented and I’m curious to know why. For example, one of the “billboard” entryways into the exhibition involves an image of a woman’s behind as a passage into the main gallery. You suggested that this connotes birth and rebirth. What is your purpose here in using such an overtly sexual image towards this end?

This image is taken from pornography although all sexually explicit details will be removed. I do want the viewer to be reborn when they enter my show but not into a clean slate. The y are being born into a world that is a reaction to the pornographic nature of civilization at the moment.