This two-channel video installation incorporates footage produced for an experimental 2000 documentary by Olivier Debroise about the unfinished 1930 film now known as ¡Que viva México!, by Sergei Eisenstein (inventor of the film montage). Eisenstein shot his film with the financial backing of the American socialist writer Upton Sinclair; Sinclair eventually withdrew his support and exercised his right as producer to have the film edited without Eisenstein’s approval. In iconography inspired by Eisenstein’s film and the murals of Mexican painter Diego Rivera, Fraser appears as a revolutionary peasant during a failed uprising at a hacienda. On the other screen, scenes representing the audience appear periodically, with Fraser performing as Frances Flynn Paine, president of the Paine Mexican Arts Corporation, an entity (funded by the Rockefeller family) that promoted Mexican arts and crafts in the United States in the 1930s. Paine was also the curator of Diego Rivera’s 1931 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, of which Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was a founder. While Paine was passionate about Mexican culture, she found it necessary to couch her interest in ideological terms, suggesting that American support for the Mexican avant-garde would subdue the leftist politics of the leading Mexican artists. (A letter from Paine to Rockefeller is included in the installation.)
The video installation’s split-screen format is both a familiar convention of video art and a representation of the double role performed by the artist. It provides a framework for Fraser’s examination of the fate of certain radical utopian and revolutionary impulses in twentieth-century art. Contrary to the common narrative of the failure of artists’ radical aspirations, Fraser points to contradictions that recast those aspirations within a structure of conflicts internal to the artist rather than one of failure to resist external interference.
Gallery label from Performing Histories: Live Artworks Examining the Past, September 12, 2012–March 8, 2013.