Art Focus: In Project Series 39, Rachel Mayeri Explores Primate Cinema

Rachel Mayeri’s installation “Primate Cinema” is the newest exhibition of the Project Series at the Pomona College Museum of Art. This is the eleventh year that the museum has run Project Series, a program that brings Southern California artists to Pomona College.In her exhibition, Mayeri uses new media, saying, “As opportunities to study the unruly lives of nonhuman primates in the ‘wild’ continue to vanish, our imagination of our closest relatives may be all that we have left.”The exhibition is made up of a video series in which primates are the main subject being studied. These videos are divided into three sections, and each section takes up a wall of the room.The work appears to be more of a science project than an art one.The first wall is comprised of a flat screen showing a video of baboons and a projector showing a large scene where humans are socializing in a bar—this is what Mayeri calls a two-channel video installation. The title of the piece is “Baboons as Friends.” The baboon video showcases a female on top of a hill and three males trying to grab her attention. After the female shows no interest, the males grow aggressive, and the largest male chases the other males away from the female. The camera pans and gives us the final scene where the baboons begin to mate. The projected film that is playing next to this video displays the same situation but with actors reenacting it at a bar. The human video ends with a man flirting with the woman.This wall tells us that the mating selection between nonhuman primates and humans is more similar than we may believe. The remaining walls will show us similar things, if not how not to edit a video.If you are in the room alone, as I was, you can sit on the bench and from there be able to see all the videos without needing to physically move.The second part of the collection is made up of two televisions and titled “Study for Big Brother v. Animal Planet.” At first, it seems that both televisions are showing the same video, but then subtle differences appear. The video on the left begins with two nonhuman primates grazing in the wild before turning into a scene from the sitcom Friends in which David Schwimmer’s character, Ross, is in his apartment crouching over furniture. On the floor, grass patterns identical to those where the monkeys were grazing are visible. Chandler then appears, crouching in between the monkeys. The video then turns into a Friends cut-out, where Ross is a blank cut-out figure moving about in the field.The video on the right takes a similar approach. It begins with the New York City skyline, which introduces the beginning of an episode of Friends. Ross sits in front of vertical blinds; the primates that were on the previous video can be seen through the window covered by the blinds. The scene with the primates then emerges, followed by a scene with the primates in the apartment. In this scene, a set of real primates emerge from a set of cardboard cutouts of primates. When the real primates emerge, it erases the apartment background and transforms it into the wild landscape.The third wall, titled “How to Act Like An Animal,” is more direct. There is a projection covering most of the wall, and a television in the middle of the projection. The projection consists of three sections where humans are being filmed. In the first part, seven people stand with their arms crossed over their chests, some smiling and others simply staring intently. In the second part, the people start acting like primates: they crouch, jump around, and act as if they are eating from the ground. In the third installation, they gather around a sweater taken from one of the actresses and become more aggressive. Everyone wants a piece of the sweater. Meanwhile, in the television, we see a piece that could have been taken from the Discovery Channel. This video has a narrator. It begins with a small monkey jumping through branches and then being captured by a bigger primate. The predator begins feeding on it, then shares it with the other males. Eventually the female primates join in the feast.Overall, if you are looking to not spend too much time in a museum, this is the perfect exhibition to visit. It should not take one more than 20 minutes to see it completely, even if you watch each film once through. If you are not fond of experimental art involving video, then definitely stay away from this exhibit.

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