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Immersive exhibit ‘Kidnappers Foil’ coming to Blaffer Art Museum

This is "Kidnappers Foil" North American debut, following its premiere at the Kunsthalle Wien in 2014. | Photo by Stephan Wyckoff, via Kunsthalle Wien, 2014.

This is “Kidnappers Foil” North American debut, following its premiere at the Kunsthalle Wien in 2014. | Photo by Stephan Wyckoff, via Kunsthalle Wien, 2014.

The immersive moving image exhibit “Kidnappers Foil” is coming to Blaffer Art Museum from Nov. 14, 2019 to Mar. 14, 2020. 

The installation by Toronto-based artist Gareth Long aims to explore the “social, cultural, and media histories of amateur American filmmaking’ through the productions of Texan filmmaker Melton Barker.  

“This exhibition is not only of interest to people who are steeped in media theory or philosophy or film studies, but it brings all of these things together through the lens of cultural studies and through the lens of history,” said Max Fields, one of the exhibit’s curators.

Dallas-born Barker traveled from town to town across the American South and Midwest between 1936 and 1976, and used a single script to produce hundreds of unique variations of the same film, according to the Blaffer Art Museum.

Barker made his living convincing the local communities he visited to view his films at their local cinema. Over the course of a week, he would recruit a cast of children, shoot the production, and present the finished film in front of an audience filled with friends and family of the cast, according to Fields.

Once each screening was finished, Barker would pack up his things, drive over to the next town, and repeat this process again. However, he’d leave the finished reels behind — and the Blaffer Art Museum said many of these have been considered lost forever.  

“Kidnappers Foil” immerses viewers in synchronized projections of the existing copies of Barker’s films. Long considers Barker’s works as “historical documents” and viewed the films as cinematic artifacts, Fields said. 

“What you get to notice in the gallery space is the differences between grades,” Fields said. “This is like a very theoretical… (and) conceptual sort of approach that only juxtaposing these films together sort of can provoke. This idea of repetition and difference.”

The way Long frames and projects Barker’s works turns the films into an archive of life and technology at the time they were shot, instead of a focus on each individual work, Fields said. 

Kidnappers Foilserves a set of strange markers in American history, Fields said. Although the script was the same each time, the children, towns, and culture in each film changed. 

“When you put all of these films together, you get a story essentially or a commentary on the culture at large,” Fields said. “The culture that produced this, the culture that wanted this, because there was obviously demand if did 300 times for four decades.”

Long has had solo exhibitions all over the world, but this presentation of Kidnappers Foil is his first institutional solo exhibition in the U.S. and the North American debut of the installation. 

An interesting takeaway from “Kidnappers Foil” is to see the same desires for fame and attention from the adults Barker marketed the film screenings to in today’s celebrity culture, Fields said.

“That idea of sort of the notion of celebrity or even selfie culture began in 2007 with the birth of the iPhone is really challenged,” Fields said. “We’re seeing a culture obsessed with seeing themselves on the silver screen and wanting to present themselves and their kind of Sunday best.”

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