A Short Film Imagines Manhattan’s Busiest Places without Any People

Artsy Editorial
May 12, 2015 10:15PM

The sculptor, filmmaker, and photographer Holly Zausner creates films that operate in a space between “dreamscape and reality.” Her motion pictures are meditative explorations of gender and the body, densely referential pieces peppered with odd and symbolic figures, as in a recent trilogy featuring an ever-expanding puppet as the artist’s sometime ghost, sometime dopplegänger.

For that three-part series—which was completed in 2007 and hailed by fellow artist Josiah McElheny as “a fantastically grand, Hollywood-scale film trilogy”—Zausner filmed in some of Berlin’s most “historically fraught” locations. Her latest cinematic achievement, Unsettled Matter (2015), which is on view at Postmasters gallery this month, uses a similar thematic structure to explore issues that have been central to her practice over the course of decades. Folding together the history of narrative film, the social legacy of art history, and the politics of the female body, the 10-and-a-half-minute work is a haunting look at psychologically charged sites in and around New York City. It is also the result of a long-time collaboration with famed cinematographer Mott Hupfel—a project that periodically brought Zausner back to New York from her residence in Berlin over a period of several years.


The film opens with a pseudo-meta and surrealistic accident that befalls the artist as she works; it’s unclear whether the resulting storyline is simply a dream or something more sinister. Wearing a noir-ish black trenchcoat and sunglasses, Zausner is filmed standing, as the video alternates between slow motion and a brisk pace. The artist’s ghostly presence appears to take deliberate steps across the eerie, empty streets and institutions of New York City, materializing in the Met and Washington Square Park, inside the cavernous architecture of Grand Central Terminal, and among the streetscapes of Chinatown. With her body at once removed from the city and acting as a sculptural element within it, Zausner has said her film is “about searching, not about finding, an existential, feminist meditation.”

—Molly Osberg

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019