Showing in its US premiere, Ken Okiishi’s most recent moving-image work is an engrossing take on the studio portrait. In tasking his real-life fitness coach with restaging social media photographs in reverse order—an embodiment of the social feed, half archive, half look book—the artist plays with notions of identity at the center of contemporary visual culture. That Okiishi’s videos have long made use of recreation only deepens his vision of today’s technology-laden psychodrama. If the turn-of-the-millennium Death and the College Student (1999) memorably sees the artist channeling River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, any fantasy in Vital Behaviors looks inward; in lieu of confession and projection onto cultural icons, self-image is a feedback loop generating new, desirable possibilities at the swipe of a thumb.
More a work of cinema than of influencer culture, this hourlong, meticulously paced work is at turns confounding, tantalizing, and even moving. Okiishi captures the moments in which affect approaches virtuosic performance and a young model becomes an actor. (Indeed, Brian Altemus’s first screen credit is for Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always). With a sort of reciprocal training at play, the work is utterly devoid of cynicism. On the contrary, intimate and self-searching, it tackles social media artifice—even teeters on the edge—and unleashes something entirely profound.
Organized by Sophie Cavoulacos, Assistant Curator, Department of Film.