The Plain Dealer | Steven Litt   |  May 12, 2019

Spaces video exhibits pair masterful Bridget Moser performances with moody piece by Jacob Koestler

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The two principal shows now on view at Spaces are a case of too much and not enough.

An installation with a pair of brief videos by the brilliant Canadian performance artist Bridget Moser leaves you wanting more.

A poignant but overly complicated and at times self-indulgent hour-long video by Cleveland artist Jacob Koestler explores the history of the defunct and dismembered Oakwood Country Club. It would have been stronger with tighter editing.

Both exhibits, however, are well worth seeing.

Koestler takes a deep dive into the background of a troubled landscape in the eastern Cuyahoga County suburbs, revealing kaleidoscopic perspectives.

Moser, whose show is entitled, “You Opened That Can Now Let’s Eat The Whole Thing,” demonstrates mastery in performances that resemble fragmentary stand-up sketches, laced with an abstracted, philosophical kookiness.

Her compulsively watchable work whipsaws the viewer from one mood to another, achieving comedic intensity through excellent timing and delivery.

Based in Toronto, the 32-year-old artist participated in a residency at Spaces in March and April, producing the two short videos on view in the gallery, plus a 26-minute performance held on April 17 and later posted in a video recording on the Spaces website.

Moser performs in all three videos in candy-colored t-shirts and capri slacks against a white backdrop, creating a visual effect that’s light, visually punchy and playfully innocent.

Tall and slender with a mop of fine blonde hair and a loose-jointed physique, she uses her body and voice to cycle through rapid-fire changes in persona accompanied by equally rapid shifts in background music.

She’s a naïve newlywed, an angry spouse, a spacy corporate employee making a presentation with a self-massage tool substituting as an oddball graph of progressive earnings.

Her material is hilarious. She begins the longer video, “What Will Stay You Alive,’’ by scolding an imaginary listener four times, saying, “I can’t believe you’ve done this!”

As the background music suddenly brightens, Moser picks up a pillow prop resembling half of a male torso with one arm attached, and shakes its hand, grinning in a cheesy way.

Then she places the pillow’s arm around her shoulder and tells her audience with bloated seriousness: “My fiancé and I have decided to adopt a highway. Child would be fine - we talked about that - but at the end of the day, they don’t put up a sign with a name on it for that.”

In one of the shorter videos on view in the gallery, Moser emerges from an inflatable pink coffin, announcing, “I’m not finished yet!”

She then munches a tiny yellow pocketbook, arm wrestles her man-pillow, and then declares: “I’m not a fan of minimalist furniture. I like comfort, so sue me!” Later, she shows up back in her coffin, saying, “I would have preferred a little more leg room.”

Few gallery or museum shows have the power to make you laugh. Moser’s output at Spaces is one of those rare occasions – and that makes it terrific viewing.

A still image from Jacob Koestler's moody video essay on the history of Oakwood Country Club.

Casual Water,’' Koestler’s video on the history of the Oakwood Country Club is, earnest and moody. A native of Johnstown, PA, who teaches photography and video at the Cleveland Institute of Art, he fashioned his project as an extended exploration of memory and landscape.

As he explains in one of many voice-over monologues, he was inspired by winter visits to his wife’s family in Russia to explore landscapes closer to home, specifically Oakwood Country Club.

Founded in South Euclid and Cleveland Heights in the early 20th century by Jews who were unable to join gentile clubs, Oakwood thrived for decades before declining after the 1960s.

Developer Mitchell Schneider bought the 154- acre property in 2010, setting aside more than a third of the land for a Walmart. He later sold the remaining 92 acres to Hebrew Academy, which plans to build a large school on the property.

Koestler’s investigation includes his own handsome still photographs of neglected portions of the former Oakwood golf course reverting to nature, snippets of old maps, blueprint-style cyanotype prints of vegetation, and interviews with various neighbors and an activist who vent negative feelings about Schneider and Hebrew Academy.

Koestler’s video doesn’t enable Schneider or any of the other targets to respond to criticism of their actions. His project might have been much more interesting if it had, but Koestler isn’t interested in balance, or in journalism, despite the quasi-documentary feel of various portions.

His true purpose is to evoke a sad, wistful emotional quality known in Russian as toska. Koestler describes it as ranging from “spiritual anguish,” to a “dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for.”

Ultimately the video ends up feeling languid, loose and inclusive of too many parts and pieces that fail to cohere completely. It has many interesting and beautiful moments. Overall, however, it’s a case in which less would have been more.

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