Dara Friedman's 'Mother Drum' is on loop in Aspen Art Museum's Gallery 5

Dec 14, 2017

The Aspen Art Museum will celebrate new exhibitions in each of its galleries Thursday night. One of the featured artists is German filmmaker Dara Friedman, whose film “Mother Drum” will be on display in Gallery 5. Claire Woodcock met Friedman and the installation crew earlier this week as they prepared for their show’s opening.

Days before the Aspen Art Museum’s winter season formally opened, the artists had arrived and were working on their shows in their perspective galleries. Downstairs, filmmaker Dara Friedman and crew are turning Gallery 5 into a movie theater to showcase “Mother Drum,” a three-channel film depicting Native American cultures through movement.

“There are three projections together, so it’s a long low strip like a landscape,” Friedman said, describing the current setup. “The height is a little over six feet so that when the figures dance they’re pretty more or less life size.”


The performing body and movement have been fluent throughout the German-born, Miami-based artist’s work. “Mother Drum” is no exception. The film showcases individual dancers, drum circles and animals juxtaposed with vibrant monochromatic blocks of color. This is meant to heighten the viewer’s experience with the onscreen characters connections to nature and spirituality.


Mark Anderson, a creative technologist with Binary Arts in Chicago, is working with Friedman on her installation. He’s passionate about using the space to amplify the film’s percussive soundtrack.


“We have these amazing subwoofers that we're going to conceal underneath the benches,” he said. “But they're going to be really loud. It's going to be very basey, which is fabulous. It's going to be very intense.”


Anderson paused after saying this, as if remembering Friedman could decide she wants less base. But then he added, “If she wants more we can break windows,” with a laugh.


“What I wanted to do with the work was understand,” Friedman began. “Everybody says ceremony and ritual is so important, and I just wanted to know why, like what does it feel like? Why is this important? That was sort of one of the challenges with it was to not just watch or observe but to feel and understand.”


That’s how she met Cynthia Jim, a Native American woman on the Swinomish Reservation in Washington. In the film, she dances the Jingle Dress Dance native to her. Friedman described being in the moment but also watching it... a trait she sees as foundational to her craft.


“And so this film maybe comes from that thing, that place too of being completely immersed in an experience and simultaneously being able to watch it.”


Friedman also filmed at Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho and Crow Agency Reservation in Montana. She found her subjects on the internet and spent a summer on the road. The resulting work captures the power of communal acts and examines the visibility of indigenous histories, pairing traditional dances with editing techniques that multiply and complicate the images.


Director and CEO of the Aspen Art Museum Heidi Zuckerman has an affection for film. She said losing oneself in a dark space with visuals and sound can offer an escape from the immediate world that surrounds us.


“People are trying to figure out what's happening in the world right now and what their place is in it and how we can affect change,” said Zuckerman. “Artists are often at the forefront of cultural consciousness and provide, sometimes, the opportunity for that needed self reflection to figure out what to do next.”


As curator for the museum’s winter season, Zuckerman said tonight's opening encourages visitors to be socially conscious of the art around them.


“Particularly in times which are challenging like those that we're living in,” said Zuckerman. “The idea of being in some kind of immersive installation is becoming more and more appealing.”


As visitors walk through the galleries in Aspen Art Museum this season, the hope is these immersive experiences, between Friedman’s film in Gallery 5 and the exhibits on display throughout the museum, will encourage introspection and reflection as to what’s happening outside the glass and gridded walls.