Omer Fast (born 1972 in Jerusalem) is one of the outstanding film and video artists of recent years. The artist, who made Berlin his residence in 2001, has become known through exhibitions at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the Museum of Art in Indianapolis and the MUMOK (Museum für Moderne Kunst) in Vienna, to mention but a few. For The Casting (2007), a multi-channel video installation which was also on view at the Unlimited exhibition of Art Basel, the artist received one of the most internationally renowned art awards by the Whitney Museum of American Art within the context of the Whitney Biennial. In his single and multi-channel projections, the artist addresses the transformation of experiences into memories and stories. He undermines the logic of linear narrative and studies how stories become stories and to what transformation processes they are subjected during their gestation. Kunsthaus Baselland present Omer Fast’s first institutional solo exhibition in Switzerland and deliberately put the focus on his most recent film projects from the last two years: De Grote Boodschap (2007), Looking Pretty for God (After GW) (2008) and Take a Deep Breath (2008). A catalogue is produced in co-operation with Kunstverein Hannover.
The looped video De Grote Boodschap (The Great Message) was created in 2007 as a commissioned work for the Belgian Contour Biennial in Mechelen. Taking inspiration from the characteristics of television series, Fast construed a repeating story of four scenes, performed in three different rooms, into which the camera enters as if going through walls on a straight line. De Grote Boodschap deals with hidden fears and prejudice which arise from insufficient and fragmented information. At the centre of events is an old woman, whose stories of the past leave everyone puzzled even after her death. The neighbours talk about the woman and her flat and try to reconstruct events and connections from uncertain evidence. The seamless flow of the film suggests a narrative coherence which is never substantiated. In his contribution to the catalogue, Gideon Lewis-Kraus said the following: “Part of the ethical experience of watching one of Fast’s works is thus the process of discovering the ways in which we have assumed a subject to be too simply a representative of history — his own history or history’s history. Fast warns us that people are too robust to be treated as historical categories, too various to be treated lightly… People are at the same time more than the stories history tells about them…and more than the stories that they have become trapped into telling about themselves.”
In Looking Pretty for God (2008), Fast’s contribution to Manifesta 7, the artist combined interviews made with morticians with images of child models arranged by colour. While the morticians talk about the embalming and making-up of corpses, we see professional make-up artists working on the child models. The documentary angle, which seems neutral at first, is exposed when the children seem to be speaking the off-text of the people interviewed. Looking Pretty for God puts the form of documentaries onto a fictitiously metaphorical level and questions representation in a direct context of life and death and the respective possibilities of marketing them. The fabrication of stories — whether to manipulate would-be buyers or to shape the way we remember a dead person — is at the focus of the piece.
The two-channel video installation Take a Deep Breath (2008) is reminiscent of Hollywood film productions in aesthetic and narrative terms. The story occurs on a set where an eyewitness testimonial of a suicide attack is to be restaged. The story is told by the physician Martin F., who heard the noise of an explosion on his way to his favourite falafel place. He immediately went to the explosion site to see if he could provide medical help. He found a man there who had lost both legs and an arm and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to him. This is the story. When his resuscitation attempt fails and he leaves the site, it quickly becomes obvious that the doctor had tried to save the suicide bomber, which confronts him with a moral dilemma. The individual narrative strand — the eyewitness report as such, the material filmed on the set and the events during the shooting of the film — are superimposed on each other in a whirlwind of stories about the story up to a point where it becomes virtually impossible to distinguish between reality, documentary and interpretation. The process of film-making itself and, thus, the fabrication and perception of fiction are the real subject of the machinery of illusion: Omer Fast explores what happens when the levels of that which is real and that which is realistic become entangled to the point of indistinguishability.
Text by Sabine Schaschl