Gareth Long: Kidnappers Foil
November 15, 2019 – March 14, 2020
Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston
Curated and organized by Max Fields and Andrew Hibbard
Kidnappers Foil is an immersive moving image installation by Toronto-based artist Gareth Long that explores the social, cultural, and media histories of American amateur filmmaking through the work of the itinerant Texan filmmaker, Melton Barker.
Between 1936 and 1976, the itinerant filmmaker and salesman Melton Barker traveled from town to town across the American South, using and reusing a single script to produce a cinematic oeuvre comprised of hundreds of unique iterations of the same film. Touting his directorial acumen, his eye for talent, and his ability to create Hollywood-style productions in the heartland, Dallas-born Barker made his living convincing local communities to purchase time on the silver screen. Over the course of one week, Barker would recruit a cast of school children, film the production, and present the finished film at the local cinema in front of an enthusiastic audience filled with the friends and family of the amateur actors. At the conclusion of each screening event, Barker would pack up his materials, drive to the next highway town, and repeat his production process, leaving the finished film reels behind.
The resulting films are cinematically and conceptually unremarkable. Rather, Barker’s screenplay presents a predictable version of the “our-gang” genre films made popular by early Hollywood studios in the 1920s. But what the films lack in uniqueness, they make up for in their collective form as an unlikely ethnographic archive. As a collection of documentary images, Kidnappers Foil presents a four decade survey of an American fascination with cinema, celebrity, portraiture, and image circulation through the lens of twentieth-century local film.
Building from his interest in amateur production and histories of technology and mimesis, Gareth Long’s installation considers the ways in which Melton Barker’s films serve as historical documents and unique filmic artifacts. In his installation Kidnappers Foil, Long immerses viewers in a maze of synchronized digital projections of the existing copies of Barker’s films. Through Long’s framing, the films emerge as documents of the time and place of their making, and show the different characteristics they films have accumulated as the recordings have migrated through different storage--celluloid to VHS to digital, and everything in between. The installation presents an incredible document of American and Texas history, while also exploring the structures and technologies that enable that history to be told, in all of its variations.
This presentation of Kidnappers Foil is Long’s first institutional solo exhibition in the United States and the North American premiere of the installation, following its premiere at the Kunsthalle Wien (2014–15).
About the artist
Gareth Long (b. 1979 in Toronto, Canada) received his BA from the University of Toronto and his MFA from Yale University. Long has held solo exhibitions at Kunsthalle, Vienna ; Kate Werble Gallery, New York; Galerie Bernhard, Zürich; Michael Benevento, Los Angeles; TORRI, Paris; SpazioA, Pistoia; Oakville Galleries, Oakville; the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge; The Apartment, Vancouver; Leo Kamen Gallery, Toronto. His work has been included in exhibitions at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, NY; Museum of Contemporary Art Denver,; The Power Plant, Toronto; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal,; Artists Space, New York; Flat Time House, London; Drawing Room, London; Spike Island, Bristol; Wiels, Brussels; Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg; Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe; and Witte de With, Rotterdam.