Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras‘ two most recent feature-length films, My Country, My Country and The Oath (both aired on POV), are part of a planned trilogy that explore the ambiguities, injustices and bureaucracy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. While a third film has yet to be completed, Poitras’ first art gallery installation O’ Say Can You See?, now running at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, could very well be considered a continuation of this project.
O’ Say Can You See? incorporates footage shot on September 11 and interviews with former Guantanamo detainees. Video of spectators watching the World Trade Center towers on fire is projected onto a square silk screen hung in the center of the room.
The national anthem, recorded at the Oct. 20 World Series game in which the New York Yankees defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks (also the game in which President Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch), plays on speakers. Distorted through filters, the anthem and the slowed-down video, shot by Poitras herself the day of the attacks, is mournful and dirge-like. There’s no cut to footage of the Twin Towers burning, as you might see in every 9/11 news piece. Here, the people are the spectacle.
Meanwhile, on the left and right walls behind the screen, two video interviews (their audio available via headphones) with former Guantanamo Bay detainees Ruhal Ahmed and Murat Kurnaz play on a loop.
Stuart Horodner, the curator at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, said he had discussed the project for two years with Poitras. O’ Say Can You See? is a fine example of a filmmaker working in a different context approaching an ongoing project from new angles.
O’ Say Can You See? is on display at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center until December 12.
— Jason Klorfein