Viewing Room​ | July 22, 2021

Two Figures in a Field

Two Figures in a Field, is an experiential installation by the New York based, Israeli-born artist Tom Pnini. In this exhibition, Pnini—known predominantly for his films—has constructed an interactive installation comprised of two main elements The Set and The Vinyl Album, where the audience becomes an active participant.

The installation presents like a theatre stage, one that comes to life only when the viewer interacts with it. Pnini’s use of theatrical motifs enables him to act as puppeteer placing gallery visitors where they can be mesmerized by the illusion created by the work, while still being fully aware of its deception.

Entering the space, viewers engage with the set, comprised of 12 rows of shoulder-height partitions forming a series of maze-like corridors in the gallery. Advancing through the space, visitors begin to experience the installation. The partitions form a vast seascape rendered in blues and cutout wave shapes. The wave side of the installation is a tribute to sea travel—and to the myriad of reasons travelers have made journeys for millennia. It is a voyage as a tale; one of fame, romance, escape, and the unknown promises of a new land.
The vinyl album is a limited edition pressing conceived of, and produced by Pnini, featuring musician Hannah Lee Thompson performing songs dating from the 1800s which relate to the themes of water and fire. A record player is waiting in the space for visitors to play the two songs—Haul Away Joe, a sea shanty which tells the story of life-long adventure of a sea traveler, and The Two Orphans Waltz which references the Brooklyn Theatre fire on December 5, 1876 where 300 people were trampled to death trying to escape a fire that started during a performance. Both songs will also be performed live by Hannah Lee Thompson several times during the show.

Miniature theaters—creating a play within a play—are seen throughout the installation. An antique wooden radio holds within it a miniature set of the Brooklyn Theatre at the moment the tragic fire broke out. An old liquor cabinet installed in the gallery has also been transformed into an empty theatre showing only the set where a story of sea travel will unfold.

When visitors exit the space, the reverse side of the wave partitions form a landscape of fire. Rendered in rich yellows and oranges, the back of each wave cutout becomes a flame.
As visitors complete the journey from one side of the gallery to the other, they act as the absent protagonists of the two stories of the installation. With this double-feature of installation and performance—fire and water, two stories, two songs—activated by music and the participants, Two Figures in a Field becomes a story of the forgotten, met at the moment when the drama has ended and the curtain is just about to drop.

Two Figures in a Field — Water

Silk screen print on paper 17.5 x 17.5 inches (44.5 x 44.5 cm) editions of 30 and 2 APs.

Two Figures in a Field — Fire

Silk screen print on paper 17.5 x 17.5 inches (44.5 x 44.5 cm) editions of 30 and 2 APs.

About the Silk Screens

The pair of silkscreen print editions, Two Figures in a Field, are part of an immersive installation of the same name by the artist Tom Pnini. The project presents stories of sea voyages across the English Channel, including a famous attempt to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the Channel , conceived as an art project in 1975 by Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared at sea; and a news story from 2015 about Syrian refugees who desperately tried to swim across the Channel for survival. Juxtaposed, is the story of a catastrophic fire in 1876 in the Brooklyn Theater, a historic theater located in Brooklyn, New York. Pnini recounts these significant moments of disappearance, loss, and tragedy in a multi-layered and experiential way, using illusions to imagine the past.

The silkscreen editions depict the American stage actress, Kate Claxton (1848-1924) , who played the lead role in a play that was performed on the night of the Brooklyn Theater fire . In the silkscreen, Claxton is presented in costume, with an abstract image of the English Channel in the background. Color is manipulated in the prints to emphasize blue and orange hues, representing two themes that are central to the Two Figures in a Field project—water and fire—two natural elements that are in opposition. Two Figures in a Field was presented in Tom Pnini’s solo exhibition at Lesley Heller Gallery in New York, on view from January 10–February 22, 2021.

Two Figures in a Field — Vinyl

45” vinyl record | Edition of 300; 5 APs

About the Vinyl

The vinyl record, Two Figures in a Field, is a limited edition pressing, conceived and produced by the artist Tom Pnini, and serves as an entrypoint to Pnini’s immersive installation project of the same name. The project presents stories of sea voyages, and in particular, travels across the English Channel, including a famous attempt to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the Channel, conceived as an art project in 1975 by Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared at sea; and a news story from 2015 about Syrian refugees who desperately tried to swim across the Channel for survival. Juxtaposed, is the story of a catastrophic fire in 1876 in the Brooklyn Theater, a historic theater located in Brooklyn, New York. Pnini recounts these significant moments of disappearance, loss, and tragedy in a multi-layered and experiential way, using illusions and music to imagine the past.

In the vinyl edition, collaborator Hannah Lee Thompson performs two songs, dated from the 1800’s, that expand on the project’s themes. On one side of the vinyl, a sea shanty, Haul Away Joe, tells the lifelong adventure of a sea traveler. On the other side of the vinyl, The Two Orphans Waltz, tells the story of the Brooklyn Theater fire. With an A side and B side track, listeners must flip the record to hear each song, proposing that there is a dichotomy between the two story lines at the core of this project. Two Figures in a Field was presented in Tom Pnini’s solo exhibition at Lesley Heller Gallery in New York, on view from January 10–February 22, 2021.

To learn more about Tom Pnini’s practice, listen to this recorded interview with the artist, conducted in the spring of 2020 and produced by Artis.

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