Our City Dreams

"Excellent"

Our City Dreams Review


In these trying times, there's not much to be happy about, particularly when it comes to the arts. And that's why Chiara Clemente's celebratory documentary, Our City Dreams, about five women artists inspired by New York City -- their adopted city home -- is such a joyous infusion of life in these perilous days. Clemente gives us all a reason for jubilation.

The five women -- Swoon, Ghada Amer, Kiki Smith, Marina Abramovic, Nancy Spero -- range in age from 30 to 80, but their similarities link them all through the decades. They are all devoted above all else to their art (Spero remarks, "It's a different kind of battle being a woman and being a woman artist") and to their home base of New York City (Swoon comments, "I just found that New York was the biggest, loudest, dirtiest, most intense city that we have"). Each of these women is given her due by Clemente in self-contained pieces linked by energetic shots of the City.

Swoon, the youngest of the group, is seen preparing her street projects, cut-outs of people "in the moment" (Swoon refers to it as capturing "the moment of observing"), that are plastered onto subways walls and the sides of buildings. Clemente charts the course of Swoon's career as her art gains acceptance and she prepares for a 2006 solo show. Although uneasy about success (she anticipates the critical trajectory of "being ignored, embraced, and destroyed"), she forges on for her art, with starting a family the least of her concerns because she is "too consumed and too in love with making things."

The hammer claws of domestic life also affect Ghada Amer, a Cairo-born artist whose work combines embroidery and painting to create erotic art ("It's a good contradiction," she remarks). Clemente follows Amer on a family visit to Cairo, where she reflects on family pressures -- "Women are oppressed and they want to pass on their oppression to their daughters." For Amer, New York City is her Mecca, a place of independence and self-assertion; to be a woman artist "you cannot be shy -- you have to be very aggressive very quick."

Kiki Smith was inspired to be an artist after the death of her father, minimalist sculptor Tony Smith. Smith was in San Francisco when she saw the New York Dolls, which influenced her to move back to New York City ("their kind of angst was me"). Once back in the fold, Smith began the creation of her influential sculptures and paintings that "conveyed life growing on death." Clemente captures Smith preparing a retrospective show at the Walker Arts Center and preparing "a snow show" for the Winter Olympics.

Performance artist Marina Abramovic is seen in extracts for her grueling performance pieces -- including a seven-hour performance for the Guggenheim and Thomas Lips, an art piece of self-mutilation performed upon her nude body. Abramovic is shown directing her Independent Performance group and is last seen lashing the ocean in Thailand as punishment for the tsunami.

Octogenarian Nancy Spero, a self-described "woman warrior," is captured still hard at work on her own brand of political activist art. Spero is first seen adjusting to the death of her artist husband Leon Golub but recovering her creativity with her Lincoln Center subway installations and a show in Venice. Spero's body may be frail, but her spirit is strong: "You really can't sit back on the rocking chair."

Clemente depicts these women in all of their fiery intensity and the profiles of Our City Dreams meld into a hymn of hope and courage for the fervor of artistic creation. Artistic creation is synonymous with optimism, and as such Our City Dreams shines with the light of faith and renewal, a tasty little cocktail we can all benefit from during this bleak piece of time in the U.S. of A.

Rosie the Riveter would be proud.



Our City Dreams

Facts and Figures

Run time: 85 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 16th October 2008

Production compaines: Di San Luca Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Chiara Clemente

Producer: Chiara Clemente, Tanya Selvaratnam, Bettina Suiser

Starring: Ghada Amer as Herself, Marina Abramovic as Herself, Caledonia Curry as Swoon, Kiki Smith as Herself, Nancy Spero as Herself

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