Ken Okiishi (b. 1978)
(Goodbye to) Manhattan (2010)
"Chapter One. He adored New York City," begins Woody Allen's 1979 Manhattan. "To him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity to cause so many people to take the easy way out . . ." Allen's line may be an allusion to suicide, but one less radical departure for New York creatives has been, traditionally, to move away. With seemingly exponential increase over the past decade, asylum seekers have turned not to Brooklyn but to Berlin, inaugurating in their wake a love-hate fantasy wherein the German capital is cast as a utopian center of artistic production, and New York as a place to sell, not to make––a sexy but commercial hell. The success of Ken Okiishi's film work (Goodbye to) Manhattan, 2010, is its dismantling of that bipolar fantasy, of which its protagonists are ostensibly a part.

Okiishi has been living between New York and Berlin since 2001, and (Goodbye to) Manhattan combines materials from that experience (filmed between 2006 and 2009) into a seventy-two-minute, semiautobiographical transposition of Allen's classic. Okiishi's cast of characters is pared down to Manhattan's three female protagonists, interpreted by key players in the artist's actual New York/Berlin life; its script is the Google translation, into English, of the German version of Allen's original. The resultant semantic layering is mirrored in the video's sometimes vertiginous, pixelated editing; still, if there is anything neurotic here, it is only in both films' intuitive, historicized preoccupation with Germanness. Okiishi's work indulges the hysterical potential of that transatlantic transaction; its Technicolor destabilizes a black-and-white cliché. One sees a zany shopping and dining experience in West Berlin's KaDeWe department store; Manhattan meanwhile languishes under a sound track of slightly decelerated Gershwin tunes that have the metallic quality of a recording made, perhaps, in the hull of a Berlin-bound Boeing 757.

(Goodbye to) Manhattan's presentation in Berlin this summer, after its debut at New York's Alex Zachary Gallery earlier this year, provides an opportunity to view the work in the space in which it was partly conceived and filmed: Galerie Neu's apartment annex, where Okiishi once briefly resided. Viewers, too, thus find themselves green-screened into the film's Berlin/Manhattan hallucination––the work, after all, is about you.

-- Victoria Camblin, Artforu