In his captivating short films, Los Angeles–based artist and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph (b. 1981, Seattle, WA) conjures the lush and impressionistic quality of dreams with particular reverence for quotidian moments and intimate scenes.
Kahlil Joseph, Fly Paper, 2017 (still). HD video installation, sound. Courtesy the artist
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In his absorbing short films, Los Angeles–based artist and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph (b. 1981, Seattle, WA) conjures the lush and impressionistic quality of dreams with particular reverence for quotidian moments and intimate scenes. Music always figures centrally in Joseph’s works, and sounds reverberate as vital and powerful analogues for the play of images through which he chronicles the stories and rhythms of his subjects. As much as they plumb the history of cinema and moving images, Joseph’s films also find a parallel in the lyricism, complexity, and affective power of black musical traditions.
In “Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play,” his first solo presentation in New York, Joseph debuts Fly Paper (2017), a new film installation that departs from his admiration of the work of Roy DeCarava (1919–2009), a photographer and artist known for his images of celebrated jazz musicians and everyday life in Harlem. With Fly Paper, Joseph extends DeCarava’s virtuosity with chiaroscuro effects to the moving image and brings together a range of film and digital footage to contemplate the dimensions of past, present, and future in Harlem and New York City. Joseph’s new film also touches on themes of filiation, influence, and legacy, marking a personal reckoning that intuitively calls upon his connections to the city through his family—and in particular, his late father, whom he cared for in Harlem at the end of his life. Fly Paper’s dynamic yet contemplative mood also builds on Joseph’s sense that layers of lived experience—and stories—are sedimented in the places that have played host to the aspirations and daily lives of countless individuals.
Harlem’s renown as the epicenter of black culture in the US is at the heart of Fly Paper, which builds on an interplay of artistic forms as much as it engages Joseph’s relationship to an accomplished community of black artists, writers, actors, and musicians who call New York home. Through various references to literature and narration, Fly Paper also probes the ways in which the literary imagination parallels that of film and how the ordinary act of storytelling shapes larger histories and enduring myths. With its dexterous ambiguities in narrative and its heterogeneous depictions of Harlem, Joseph’s film takes measure of depths and nuances that are often invisible or oversimplified. Fly Paper also moves beyond the visible by expanding Joseph’s practice into sound, unfolding a complex acoustic environment in which sonic textures and original compositions resonate throughout the exhibition space. As a rich and polyphonic portrait of black art and culture in New York City, Fly Paper invites a meditation on the slippery nature of memory, reverie, and the photographic image.
“Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play” is curated by Natalie Bell, Assistant Curator, and Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director.