Mary Ellen Carroll: Cinema Village/Storefront for Art and Architecture
Barliant, Claire, Artforum International
Billowing American flag Bus deposits people Birds squawk and chirp, jets fly overhead
The urban haiku above was pulled from my notes on Mary Ellen Carroll's Federal and is a fairly complete summary of its action. Shot in real time on July 28, 2003, this two-part video (the halves were shot, and are screened, concurrently) is a twenty-four-hour record of the northern and southern facades of the federal building in Los Angeles, and was shown exactly two years later at Cinema Village in conjunction with an exhibition of twenty-four photographs of the northern facade at Storefront for Art and Architecture. The images of the building's orderly grid of windows (one critic described it as an "immense file cabinet") were in stark contrast with the open, asymmetrical doors on the gallery's Vito Acconci and Steven Holl-designed exterior.
The main attraction, however, was the movie. During the screening--which started at 9 AM--visitors either dropped in briefly, or stayed (if they were on assignment for an editor with a sadistic streak), and shuttled between theaters in order to view both the front and the back of the building. The image's relentless monumentality was alleviated by the banter of the crew, a dialogue that occasionally suggests nonaction worthy of Samuel Beckett (albeit expressed in a rather different idiom). "Oh yeah, baby, there it is," someone says at 3:30 in the afternoon while looking through the camera's viewfinder, "that building ain't going nowhere." Disembodied voices on the north side puncture the stillness with shouts of "Yahtzee!" and are later heard negotiating with a security guard who has arrived to tell the crew that he can't lock up the national cemetery, across the street from the building, while they are still inside with their camera. …