Visiting the Open Source Gallery (306 17th Street near 6th Avenue) can be disorienting the first time. Unless you’ve been there before, it’s hard to recognize it as a gallery at all. There are no big windows or signs — only two large wooden garage doors painted with a mural that reads: “Spread/Love.”
The mural is courtesy of Boa Mistura, the Spanish graffiti art group that painted several similar works last summer around the area of South Slope at the invitation of Open Source.
This month features the work of Finnish artist, Liinu Grönlund. “It Could Have Been” is a video installation featuring a 12-minute film that explores the fantasy of rats inheriting the earth from humans. While the subject matter might seem dark, the film is calm and introspective. Inspired by ideas from The Sixth Extinction, a non-fiction book by Elizabeth Kolbert, Grönlund creates an experience that is engaging and thought-provoking.
Pulsing quarter notes of Bach’s “Piano Concerto in D Minor” convey a feeling of open anticipation. The voiceover is hypnotic as rats wander freely around an office. They seem quite at home, cleaning their fur and poking around potted plants and paint brushes.
A human works quietly on a computer in the background. Rather than being alarming, the presence of the rodents seems natural and normal. They are cute, and the viewer wants to see what they will do next. As the music fades, Grönlund describes problems in the world such as terrorism and war:
“The news feels more and more like a dream. Facts disappear.”
Meanwhile, the artist presents facts of her own about the rats’ unique abilities. They are intelligent, feel empathy, cooperate with one another, and reproduce quickly.
I felt a growing sense of unease while watching them occupy a human space so nonchalantly, but just as I found myself beginning to feel manipulated, Grönlund says, “Rats taking our place is just a stupid dream, but let me dream of it, play with it, one more time, the very last time.”
By relegating our annihilation to a dream, she diffuses the tension and brings the viewer back inside the world of the ideas.
When I spoke to Grönlund over the phone in Helsinki, she told me it wasn’t her style to try to shock the audience. She doesn’t want to cast blame or frighten people — merely to allow them to speculate along with her. The genius of this current show is that while avoiding being overtly political, her film manages to be very effectively political.
Grönlund is currently working on two longer films: a documentary about Madagascar which is set to be released soon, and another one she is making with co-writer and director Okku Nuutilainen. This documentary will also focus on the disappearance of small species around the world that Kolbert addresses in The Sixth Extinction.
“It is sad. In a way, it is almost too late. Humans are at the beginning of their development,” Grönlund said. “We have all the tools to help to heal the planet, but the political and economic systems which are in place don’t allow them to be implemented.”
Near the end of the film, Grönlund contemplates whether the rats might remember something of us after we’re gone. She says, “If the rats do remember something, I wish it is the books that I loved.”
The rats climb in and around the pages. It’s a bit comic, with tails acting as bookmarks, and paws turning pages.
I asked Grönlund what books mean to her, and she told me she loves to read. She concluded our conversation bemoaning the fact that while capitalism makes us obsessed with making money, it also makes us ignorant of what we lose in the bargain, that is, spending time reading, thinking, and being.
These are the most important things — that which will be missed the most when we are gone.
Open Source Gallery will next feature ‘Swell’ by Francesco Simeti. The opening reception is Saturday, April 22, bet 7:00-9:00 p.m. The exhibit runs through May 27, 2017. Visit OSG’s website for more details.