Exquisite Corpse, Kerry Tribe’s beautifully constructed and quietly affecting sojourn down and around the L.A. River, devotes precisely 51 minutes to traversing the waterway’s 51 miles. This sublime film embraces any number of additional symmetries—picturesque landmark and garbage dump, abandoned infrastructure and Angeleno exercise area, freeway neighbor and loner’s retreat—on its way along Los Angeles’ most underappreciated landmark.
On view at The Anderson Collection at Stanford University, May 16—July 29, Exquisite Corpse is accompanied by Tribe’s 2017 film Standardized Patient. The Anderson will also host an outdoor screening of Exquisite Corpse on May 28 at 8pm, with the artist in attendance.
Exquisite Corpse is that rare piece that works brilliantly as both an immersive full-length film and as a short or long gallery dip. The big screen is the best way to appreciate Tribe’s photographer’s eye, while the installation experience brings out the newspaper-feature quality of various vignettes and characters—an ecologist, an urban farmer, a trailer-park resident (and his young daughter), an admirer of a long-dead hobo graffiti artist—that Tribe gracefully strings into a wending urban tale.
In sync with the filmmaker’s approach, the title evokes the Surrealist game of creating a text out of the random contributions of different people. It’s also a pretty fair description of the lengthy concrete corridor bisecting the Southern California landscape that hardly ever carries more than a couple inches of water (let alone serves to provide protection against flooding) in the 21st century.
A thinking- (and feeling-)person’s travelogue, Exquisite Corpse is observational rather than critical, and evocative rather than activist. Tribe showers the viewer with a steady stream of pleasures, from sublime urban snapshots to snippets of slice-of-life interviews, that coalesce into a contemplation of the resilience and creativity of people surviving in the middle of a megalopolis.