ART MATTERS: Dani Leventhal In Rosendale NY

1. I shall avoid animals while driving. (or stop my vehicle if one has been hit, honor it’s soul, and try to get it to safety.)
2. I shall love and do good work in my community. (and yours) 3. I shall learn from my ancestors. 4. I shall pardon error (yours and mine) and move on. 5. I shall keep healthy to avoid missing my deadlines. 6. I shall pay attention to suffering of others, offer my couch to sleepy, homeless people. 7. I shall never cease to wonder and question everything. 8. I shall remain true to the craft of my art and be bothered by rough wavy edges. Clean them up even if it means starting over. 9. I shall bravely confront fears, make friends all around, and touch it no matter how slimy. 10. I shall accept the brutality of the natural world.
(Or so J. Sigunick interprets the world of D. Leventhal)

I am thinking I should throw away the piles of photos, resume, interview notes and reviews about Dani Leventhal. I don’t mean throw away like it’s road kill, which is the fulcrum for some of her work, or the marginalized people in her film clips. What I mean is that I can only write about Dani, as an artist, from the lens of her camera, so I best be a mindfully reactive.

So I grabbed my veggie chips and watched Draft 9, a 28 minute artist video, full of cryptic messages inside a personalized narrative: traveling through cityscapes, down a river, cleaning up road kill, romps, laughter interspersed with a grandma type person. The rhythmic pumping of Dani’s legs, while riding through city streets, seems an outcry against humans hurting animals and humans hurting humans. It’s a naïve sort of outrage, begging for reason. A larger- than- the -life -I –want- to- see ode to humanity, I am pleasantly relieved to see, in her film, fingers gently pulling dead fetuses from a mom deer and lovingly removing the fur from a still supple body on the roadside. It’s a “love makes it okay” sort of thing that kept my hand off the eject key.

Dani’s work is her journey. There are events and then there is her imagination of our world with a hefty dose of a personal struggle, for which she seems to beg forgiveness.
but most of her work is set in motion, so she can’t linger in self admonishment. She props her video camera from a specific vantage point so that, we are the ones commuting to jobs, cycling through cities, rowing boats on the Hudson, riding the subways, talking to grandpa, a holocaust survivor who seems pretty ordinary, except for numbers stamped on his forearm (who else suffered in her/ our family or perished in the Holocaust?) All with angst. Does Dani expect me to hop on her bicycle while she is sardined in rush hour traffic?

It feels as if she’d like nothing better. With her camera clamped onto the handle bars, I’m scared to take that ride. Oh, but never mind, I don’t think I’m supposed to be the perpetrator or victim she would like to rescue. I guess I’m in cyber space, sitting in a rocking chair, visiting memories, proudly human, or maybe watching the troops in Iraq. Oh boy, I want to (gulp) Go Home. Anywhere but in the airport waiting to board a plane to Iraq, under someone’s speeding tires on route 209 or seeking asylum in Newark, New Jersey.

But then, in her piece entitled “Relinquishing”, a 60 foot plank mounted four feet out her studio window holding a winch and pulley system designed to lift her off the ground, Dani suspends herself for a 6 minute performance piece. The image of an artist, hanging Christ-like out her window is a complicated one, depending on who you are or what you think you need to “give up” Dani Leventhal swoops her audience through the quagmire of personal choices and disjunctive encounters, and the segments of her narratives barely hang together, like those five required courses in one semester. Was the young child in Dani’s drawing being asked to draw (accurately) a bomb in sweet shades of red.? Dani’s film clips tell one story. Her drawings, simple, direct, fuss-less, tell another - like a child’s plea for justice, honor and harmlessness.

Suddenly, in Draft 9 , Dani stares at me (and you) while pleading, “You’re scaring me”. Long pause. “Stop taking my purse”. (Wait! Did I grow old and forget that I scared her? Did I mean to do it, anyway? What would I do with her purse? ) Munch, munch.

Dani Leventhal is currently an adjunct professor at SUNY New Paltz. She directed the ceramics program at Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale for several years, taught at SUNY Dutchess for three years and has produced a number of films and exhibits her work internationally. She spent 2 1/2 months in Germany last summer at a Residency with another artist, Antje Feger, where the two focused work on “the evolution of ideas and the tension between Jew and Non-Jew.” Her upcoming exhibition at the No_Space Gallery in Rosendale, 449 Main Street, opens March 31st is already being constructed inside the gallery, with the help of a remarkably supportive community. And, speaking of No_Space , it is a unique arrangement of a husband and wife team, a designer and photographer, who support local artists through exhibition opportunities and video documentation, not to mention two wine and cheese receptions for each showing. Check it out: www.no-space.com for exact times and info on the closing reception in April. To see more information about her or view images of Dani Leventhal's work visit her website at: www.danileventhal.com.


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