Falling Bird, 2008.
HD digital film, 5:53 minutes.
Courtesy of the Pizzuti Collection.
At first glance, the iridescent color and vivid detail of this still life seem rendered in rich oils, but the sound of a piercing projectile soon breaks the illusion. Gersht’s “canvas” literally comes to life—the suspended carcass of a pheasant begins a slow descent, and the still life ceases to be still. The bird plummets inexorably toward a dark, reflective surface below. As we steel ourselves for collision, the bird plunges into a permeable void, disturbing dark waters. On impact, the body retains its deathly rigor, but the bird’s tail feathers curl into graceful arabesques as they disappear beneath the black tumult.
Falling Bird is a trompe l’oeil for the twenty-first century. Inspired by an eighteenth- century French still life by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, the tranquil naturalism of the first image juxtaposes jarringly with the rupture that follows. When a replay begins, Chardin’s realism morphs into modernist antifiguralism. Closer up, we see the pheasant and its reflected double merging together, their bodies abstracted into pigment and texture, as the black waters glint with sinister beauty. The storm eventually settles the serenity of the initial image is restored. But in the ensuing calm, we are left with what Susan Sontag termed a “portrait of absence”—an emptiness more unsettling than the hanging carcass it replaced.
–Virginia McBride ’15
Gund Gallery Associate