abduct | Xavier Cha

abduct, 2015, video still

abduct, 2015, video still

abduct, 2015, video still

abduct, 2015, video still

As a part of the commission programme for Frieze Film 2015 which will be screened at Frieze London and air on BBC’s national Channel 4, Xavier Cha presents abduct, a cinematic study of performative self-estrangement in the virtual age. Xavier Cha’s conceptually-driven practice spans dance, video, text and audio, but central to her work is the expanded field of performance. Since graduating from UCLA in 2004, she has shown live and video work across the US and Europe, including Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, the New Museum and the Whitney. Her works concern themselves with the ambiguity of human existence, “our mutating, uncomfortable, alienating and awkward relationship to our “selves,” she explains in the Exhibitor’s Lounge at Frieze London 2015, “and what it means to be or feel human after managing infinite and immortal virtual bodies.”

Xavier Cha was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Dallas, Texas. An underlying interest in subjectivity developed at an early age, making her feel alienated whilst attending school. “I always in some way want to push the boundaries of my humanity,” she explains. “I have never been able to relate to people who accept an ordinary/routine path.” In her own early self-imagined artistry, she drew images of herself in a bikini, holding a palette and standing at an easel on the beach.

Surveil, 2015, choreography from spyware surveillance data, Institute of Visual Art, UWM

Surveil, 2015, choreography from spyware surveillance data, Institute of Visual Art, UWM

(green lights) Surveil, 2014, choreography from spyware surveillance data, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

Surveil, 2014, choreography from spyware surveillance data, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

‘Acting’ as a formal, object-like phenomenon crystallizes in much of Cha’s video work, in which the viewer is asked to reflect on the medium-specificity of film and the role of performance in it. Acting manipulates space and time in any context, and Cha tests the boundaries of these manipulative strategies (that are also inherent in mainstream media) by amplifying its borderline manifestations. Her 2011 piece Body Drama captured the anxious response of actors as they were linked to body-mounted cameras, inescapable from their gaze; inversely, her 2012 solo show at 47 Canal Street filmed subjects experiencing an induced meditative transcendence, removing their sense of “self’ and ability to control their image on the screen.

In her new film, the self seems to have been co-opted and led to a performative extreme within the apparatus of film. The still, hypnotic presence of the diverse cast evokes the mesmerizing test shots of Andy Warhol, but while Pop tried to charter a time-based presence of selfhood within the moving-image medium, Cha discusses its social and affective implications. Standing in a brightly-lit photo studio, the actors elastically work their ways through a double-range of non-verbal emotional registers, which range from ‘shocked sorrow,’ to ‘ecstatic cerebral pleasure’ and ‘apologetic laughter,’ or ‘inhibited sadness’. The generic uniqueness of these expressions resembles the hollow hyper-specificity of stock photography, and suggests how media produces a level of self-estrangement in its self-reflection. Xavier had begun conceiving the idea for the film for her upcoming solo show at MOCA Cleveland, and only received the Frieze commission later. She put up a standard casting call and held two days of auditions by appointment, looking for a large age range and ambiguous racial profiles. The strict lack of dialogue was a challenge to many, and she quickly spotted those who were able to perform the amplified expressionism she was looking for. “It’s strange with physical acting – it’s something that became very obvious, some people really need lines, or they don’t know how to act,” she says.

Body Drama, 2011, Performance with body-mounted camera; HD video projection, Whitney Museum of American Art

Body Drama, 2011, Performance with body-mounted camera; HD video projection, Whitney Museum of American Art

Xavier’s concern for physicality transcends the digital, but “is absolutely informed and carried by digital experience.” “I’m more interested in our morphing and evolving struggle with subjectivity versus delusions of agency or autonomy within these inescapable structures of digital/information capitalism. I’m interested in how all of this is changing our physicality, our subconscious and psychic dimensions,” she says. Particularly the amplified opticality of these information structures brings up questions about self-spectatorship, surveillance and voyeurism – and how these distinct relationships of gazes collapse under the omnipresence of technology. “You feel alienated from the physical expression of emotions after having your life so seamlessly and flawlessly extended into the virtual, behind which vulnerabilities are easily masked” she explains. “When you have to feel the physicality of expression, it can feel so alien.”

In conjunction with her art practice, Xavier is a routined Pilates instructor with a fully-functional operation in New York, which from an outsider’s perspective seems like an organic extension of her creative work: bodily and emotional flexibility, breathing, self-improvement and most importantly, the presence of machinery in this process, as a sort of as she puts it, Cronenbergian melding of body and technology. “Physicality and my relationship to the boundaries of my human body is always on my mind,” she admits despite never having concretely linked the two practices, “you really have to connect to the Pilates equipment to feel the work. I am interested in how the presence of machines, the camera lens, the monitoring of our navigation paths, etc affect and change the way we behave, think, move, and feel in our faces and bodies.”

Body Drama, 2011, Performance with body-mounted camera; HD video projection, Whitney Museum of American Art

Body Drama, 2011, Performance with body-mounted camera; HD video projection, Whitney Museum of American Art

Cinema as constructed context is internalized in abduct, as we see the actors jumping in and out of character while fragments of the studio space are continuously revealed. It exposes the deceptive nature of the cinematic medium, as the unorthodox rhythms of emotional manipulation fail to gratify – without an emotional arch that is logical, the absurdity and violence of performance crystallizes. “Like when you look at the girls (or guys),” Xavier reflects: “you think, ‘she’s hot’ and then she does something really weird, denying you of that desire.”

The Frieze commission triggered Xavier to approach the filmic medium more playfully than before, looking closer at the narrative and aesthetic devices that constitute the visual consumption of emotion. As the title suggests, the film places itself within a futuristic sci-fi cinematic tradition – the excessively moisturized models are presented in a brightly-illuminated, white photo studio, captured in a super-stylized format (exaggerated panning, awkward zooms) simulating the apparatus of the commercial fashion video and the horror-film all at once. In abduct, the formalisation of mass-cultural subjectivity is achieved, finalized and sublimated.

untitled, 2012, still from 4 channel video installation, 47 Canal Gallery

untitled, 2012, still from 4 channel video installation, 47 Canal Gallery

untitled, 2012, still from 4 channel video installation, 47 Canal Gallery

untitled, 2012, still from 4 channel video installation, 47 Canal Gallery

Recent Posts

A Conversation about Ergonomic Futures

Lafayette Anticipation associate curator Anna Colin talks to artist Tyler Coburn about Ergonomic Futures, a speculative project engaged with art, design, science, anthropology and writing. In this interview, Coburn discusses the research, production process and network of collaborators of a multilayered project ultimately concerned with the futures of humankind. Anna Colin: When one comes across your museum seats Ergonomic Futures (2016—) in contemporary art exhibitions—and soon in natural history, fine art, and anthropology museums—they look… [read more »]

nils lange + saliva : l’eau des algues

L’Eau des Algues Two alchemists already aware of each other’s Instagrams meet for the first time in a gay sauna. They are swimming; it’s the Hood By Air afterparty in Paris. They are Lukas Hofmann and Nils Amadeus Lange. Months later, they meet again. They are on the edge of yet another steaming pool; it’s the Manifesta Biennale closing event at Cabaret Voltaire. They are performing the perfume titled “L’eau des Algues.” Head notes: Zürich… [read more »]

Toward a Low Key Voting System Where Votes Are Actually Considered | Adrian Massey

While reading A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory, I came across the following passage, “If you want people to vote, we need to move to a more decentralized system in which every vote really does count enough to outweigh the lack of enthusiasm for voting which so many people obviously feel…Simply repeating the slogan that ‘every vote counts’ isn’t ever going to work, because it isn’t true.” I was jarred. For me, anecdotally knowing… [read more »]

Tough Luck | Tyler Reinhard

When life is being super unfair, just do what we all do: suffer the consequences. I wake up and the first thing I do is check my phone. A convenient euphemism for using Facebook’s machine learning techniques to discover which 300 entries are statistically most likely to stand out from the tens of thousands of brain dumps my friends and family have produced over the last 48 hours. Impressed by what Facebook provides, I think… [read more »]

America Is Hard to See: A Guide to not being depressed about US electoral politics this November

In order to make sense of state politics in the birthplace of statistical marketing and the internet, one has to be wary of the effects of these technologies on the country’s popular media. In a time when our news and advertisements are tailored to our pre-recorded political opinions, it can be especially difficult to empathize with differing political views. Likewise, learning about the histories of state politics is not encouraged by platforms that profit from… [read more »]

On self-care and the election | Eva Saelens

We can get together and laugh about it. We can heave sighs and express disbelief, but it’s never enough. This presidential election year has lasted for years, and they sit on citizens like a slick film. We feel touched by an unshakable germ, invaded by a blood-sucker, afflicted by a social cancer, drained of the plump vitality of life and the amazing liberty of choices, and transformed into a cynical, depressed shrivel. After being touched… [read more »]

Swarovski Crystal Meth at National Sawdust

Swarovski Crystal Meth, a collaboration between Ser Serpas, Daniela Czenstochowski and Gia Garrison for the National Sawdust “Selkie Series” performances, curated by Alexandra Marzella. Music composed and produced by Daniela Czenstochowski Poem by Sera Serpas Sound Edit Mateo Majluf Vocals Sera Serpas, Gia Garrison and Daniela Czenstochowski All Images Olimpia Dior i went to the desert con mi mama outlet store shopping is fried onto mi conciensa, big bags, wins bigger losses fragmented lux economy… [read more »]

Hasbeens and Willbees Auction @ Romeo Gallery

Shop items from the most recent Hasbeens and Willbees luxury auction now! Featuring Bjarne Melgaard, Bror August, Women’s History Museum, Lou Dallas, Hermes, Gautier, and more. All photography Dillon Sachs Styling Avena Gallagher Hosted by Rome Gallery NYC


What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene | Agustina Zegers

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene is a text made up of living exercises to accompany Haraway’s theorization of the Chthulucene and her upcoming book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway posits that not only should we name the Anthropocene carefully (including the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene within its narrative) but that we should also be using this crucial ecological timeframe to move towards a dynamically multi-species, “sym-chtonic“, sym-poietic future: the Chthulucene.… [read more »]