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July 21, 2014

Alex Prager: Crowd Control

The Philosophical Artist Continues Her Transition to Film With a Brand New Premiere

“I was traveling more than ever over the past several years: airport terminals, subways stations, streets of New York and London,” says Los Angeles native Alex Prager. “I became very aware of the crowds of people and how my emotional and psychological state really determined what I noticed in the crowd and how I absorbed it.” Channeling the personal experience into her latest short film, Face in the Crowd, taken from her M+B- and Lehmann Maupin-exhibited show of the same name, the artist allows viewers to witness the before and after of one of her saccharine-coated, Golden Era-indebted photographs. The melodramatic clip––shown here for the first time––has echoes of the famous last scene in Fellini's 8 ½ and sees 30 Rock actress Elizabeth Banks play an all-American beauty observing a cast of exhibitionist characters before finding herself thrust among them. “Every time I'm in New York I'll have a moment like this,” says Prager. “The second you leave your house you are confronted with a crowd. The choice you have is to either let it swallow you up, or use it as inspiration.” 

Can you tell us a bit more about how the film came about?
Alex Prager: I was dealing with a very visceral reaction to public speaking––stage fright––something I didn't know I had until I was suddenly confronted with an audience. I've always had a strong interest in crowds; I had been wanting to shoot crowds for years, but I wasn't trying to just re-enact crowds that we've seen before, I was trying to create a staged world for these crowds to live in. I wanted to construct crowds that brought the feel of the cinematic, a manufactured world, and meld them with reality. 

How do you cast the picture-perfect scenes?
AP: I use my friends, people I found in cafés or on sidewalks, as well as go through casting companies to find professional extras. My sister was the only person who was in every single crowd shot dressed as a different character. She is the Where's Waldo in Face in the Crowd.

What was the last crowd you encountered?
AP:
I went to Art Basel in Switzerland a few weeks ago because the exhibition was being shown with Lehmann Maupin at Art Unlimited. I did a panel discussion for the Salon Sessions. These things always feel a bit overwhelming before I go on stage, and then gradually, as I look out and start to notice individuals, it becomes less and less intense.

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Spotlight

Weekend in Gstaad: A Study in Snow

Our Spotlight on Switzerland Continues with New Alpine-Inspired Works by Christian Marclay, Olivier Mosset and Roman Signer

Continuing our high-altitude stint at Elevation 1049, Swiss photographer and ECAL student Benoît Jeannet captures the Swiss art summit and the landscape that inspired it. “Gstaad is a peculiar place where Switzerland offers a real view of its economical power,” explains Jeannet. “Everything’s well taken care of, clean and luxurious—the town is a kind of showroom.” As a counterpoint to the expensive hotels, groomed ski runs, designer boutiques and celebrity sightings, the artists have tried to engage with the geography of the area, installing artwork that embraces not only its peaks, but also issues like climate change and inequality. “All the works are engaging in very distinct ways,” says Neville Wakefield, who curated the site-specific exhibition with his partner, the artist Olympia Scarry. “Ugo Rondinone’s tower, for example, sang its single blue note into the landscape, but its presence could be felt everywhere.” London-based artist Christian Marclay took his inspiration from an unexpected source: Bollywood. For decades, Indian directors have come to Switzerland to film elaborate dream sequences in which the romantic leads typically frolic on hillsides, covered in snow or buttercups: his 17-minute montage piece, “Bollywood Goes to Gstaad,” is being shown in a cable car that travels halfway up the Gondelbahn Glacier.

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Spotlight

Tierney Gearon’s iPhone Alphabet

The Candid Photographer's Spirited Home Movie Ahead of Her First Children’s Book

G is for grumpy girls and J is for jump for joy in today’s effervescent short, courtesy of Tierney Gearon’s iPhone. Spliced with images gathered over the past three years for her new project, Alphabet Book, the film features Gearon’s four kids and their sprightly friends playing dress-up in picturesque locales from Telluride in Colorado to the family’s home in Los Angeles, creating a project Gearon describes as an “art book for children and a children’s book for adults.” The New York Times’ regular embarks on a series of children’s parties in New York, LA and Paris to celebrate the book’s release next month. Her work has long been synonymous with the raw candor and spontaneity displayed here, catching the eye of art impresario Charles Saatchi in 2001, who gave her her much-publiziced debut exhibition I Am a Camera. “You only have one little moment that suddenly comes to life,” says Gearon of her method.

How did you come up with the photographs depicting each letter?
Tierney Gearon
: In the beginning I just started shooting every mask, costume and prop that started with the letter A. And on holiday I would pack tons of fun costumes for the kids, so part of it made me look like the fun mom that had loads of cool things to do. But then anytime I went into a shop the kids would always convince me to buy something else because it would be good for the book.

And hold the children’s attention?
TG:
 We did so much playing! It was like setting up different sets, like you’re doing a commercial. What was great about this project was that I did it together with the children, a collaborative effort.

What books did you love as a kid?
TG: 
I was obsessed with the Joan Walsh Anglund books and still have them. There’s one called Babies are a Bit of Heaven that was amazing. But, of course, there’s Eloise and The Little Prince and Curious George.

Any plans for Halloween?
TG:
I like making things at home but the kids like to buy readymade costumes. So we usually buy lots of different costumes and on Halloween we end up putting a crazy concoction together. The kids go to town!

The Alphabet Book is out November on Damiani with signings at Dashwood Books, New York City November 6 and Colette, Paris November 15.

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