Despite its funerary context, however, The Living Need Light is not exactly somber. Full of dancers and snake charmers, the celebrations that follow death are exquisite and exuberant, and the narrative structure is such that we find beauty, even freedom in death, particularly for our protagonist who cannot inhabit her identity to its fullest in the realm of the living. Moreover, the music of the film forms a strong, emotional backbone to the entire piece; it begins with a Vietnamese song, transitions into sultry jazz, and climaxes with a New Orleans standard, played by a brass band as they process through quicksand in the haunting final segment. “We’re interested in music as the narrative threading the whole thing together,” Lucero explains. The visuals and songs coalesce into a transcendent whole that calls to mind another great wizard of music and video art, Ragnar Kjartansson.
While the film more than holds its own, it would be remiss to skip the second work on display in the James Cohan show, which also makes its New York debut, The AK47 vs The M16 (2015). Originally conceived for the 56th Venice Biennale in collaboration with Grand Arts, Kansas City, the project comprises video and sculpture, which together explore the history of two machine guns, one Soviet- and one American-made, that saw their first wide use in the Vietnam War. The artists created a series of 21 sculptures by firing the guns so that their bullets would collide and mutually destruct, capturing the explosion in a ballistic gelatin specifically designed to mimic the properties of human flesh. Under its vitrine and sealed in resin, the one sculpture on display feels unsettlingly static and mundane given the violence it contains, a tension amplified by the almost annoyingly beautiful slow-motion video of the collision displayed nearby.