Time Out New York / Apr 29–May 5, 2010

Joachim Koester

The look of Joachim Koester’s latest show—an austere suite of black-and-white films and photographs—doesn’t immediately suggest psychedelia, but the Danish artist’s focus is on both countercultural history and the alteration of mental states. Most striking of the three movies (all silent 16mm projections) is Tarantism (2007), in which a group of figures throw themselves around in a controlled frenzy that seems part performance, part affliction. It turns out that their convulsive lunges reference the tarantella, a dance derived from a remedy for spider bites, used here to explore varieties of movement normally associated with physical and psychic disturbance. A companion film shows a man performing a set of purportedly consciousness-raising shamanic gestures prescribed by guru-anthropologist Carlos Castaneda.

Approaching the theme of uninhibited or spiritual human motion from another angle is Koester’s animation of Henri Michaux’s infamous mescaline drawings. Here the Frenchman’s drug-induced linear abstractions are lent a flickering rhythm that recalls Stan Brakhage’s experiments with scratched and painted celluloid.

A digital projection, Numerous Incidents of Indefinite Outcome (2007), borrows from H.P. Lovecraft’s otherworldly horror fiction, stirring computer-randomized groups of the cult author’s words into a kind of visionary verbal soup. And Koester’s photographs, shown in an adjoining room, include lush images of hybridized cannabis plants and oddly scenic shots of the tumbledown Barker Ranch, the Manson Family’s Death Valley hideout. Here, as in the films, Koester exercises commendable restraint to successfully invest familiar bad-trip territory with renewed—and nuanced—visual and conceptual interest.

Image: Joachi Koester, Barker Ranch (detail)