Elodie Pongs video installation Dirt (2007) opens with a lithe and laconic blonde woman standing in front of a pink wall, one hand in her jeans pocket, the other grasping a microphone. The double projection video work offers a more mannered scene next to her: three stunned people in a suffocating room sitting down to a dinner of rocks. Over the video, the Stooges low and rumbling sexual dirge Dirt (1970) begins to play Ooh, Ive been hurt, Iggy Pop growls seductively and the young blonde raises the microphone to her mouth, announcing slowly, in French: Perhaps the moment has come to leave to stop the constant flow of words. Despite this suggestion, she does go on to speak, at length, for another powerful seven minutes. Likewise, all of Pongs cool and compelling films, videos and objects continue to explore language in its manifest tropes and forms and the way we use it to express alienation, to attempt connection or to delineate our place in the network of social and cultural relationships that define our lives.
For the Zurich-based artist, who was born in Boston in 1969 and later studied sociology, language is a material of interiority to juxtapose with ambiguous, hilarious or iconographic theatrical imagery the very material of exteriority. Thus her works often function as a one-two punch between the spoken and the seen. For example, her punkish 2006 video Untitled (Plan for Victory) features a rocky Alpine slope with the works subtitle spray-painted in pink across the snow. An avalanche begins, accruing power and noise, until the graffiti is wiped clean. That the avalanche appears to be pulled from an old film and the words added through a computer program is indicative of Pongs approach. She mines existing films and film forms for reflexive videos that ponder cinematic history and codes as much as the universal themes (desire, ambition, alienation) they invariably address.
Pong has employed the music video format NO NO NO (2007) presents a dissolute woman playing slide guitar as she slithers around a bed as well as more noir, auteur fare. Sincerely Yours from Alexandria (2006) conjures David Lynchs Blue Velvet (1986), with its surreal, flickering room and Americana soundtrack, over which a couple evoke a past relationship in broken English. Other works are less tenebrous. Londons Whitechapel Gallery recently showed two of Pongs most topical films: Even A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day (2008), a montage of stuffed birds discussing the global economic crisis, and After the Empire (2008), a sweeping work featuring iconic figures in deadpan, dreamy vignettes which cohere into a moving paean to cultural codes and existential crisis. Marilyn Monroe sings Madonnas Material Girl (1985) to Karl Marx; Pinocchio does lines of cocaine off a mirror; Robin and Batman flirt; and an Asian tart proclaims her pussy is the new black. Like Pongs other works, the film has a crisp, clean look her filmmaking technique is exemplary and a sardonic humour made lyrical by a thread of plaintive romanticism. Even so, her works retain their reserve. If this reticence underlines the artists scientific training, it also makes her chosen medium apt film also offers intimacy but only through a screen.
This emphasis on surface was everywhere in Pongs spring show at freymond-guth Ltd. Fine ARTS in Zurich. Titled Coverology, the exhibition featured the 2011 series of the same name: 72 austere white canvases with a book title from W. G. Sebalds 1995 Rings of Saturn to Pascals 1670 Pensées digitally printed in black on each canvas. Arranged in a monochromatic grid, the works married Ed Ruschas and Christopher Wools stencilled canvases to the digital paintings of Wade Guyton and Marieta Chirulescu. Three new videos also limned language, including the beguiling Ersatz (2011). In a bedroom, a handsome couple elliptically converse in several halting languages their feelings via the titular word. How do you feel about ersatz? one character asks nonsensically. I am also an ersatz, the other answers, revealing the basic existential condition of feeling oneself to be a simulacrum. And what are simulacra but representation and role-play, Pongs central tenets? In the artists cinematic world, all is imitation, imposture and reference she seems to say that one only becomes oneself by being, yes, an ersatz.