ArtForum Critic’s Pick: Garrett Pruter at Trafalgar Avenue

by Gwen Burlington

In his ongoing work The Birds, 2022, Garrett Pruter revisits Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, painstakingly removing the attacking crows frame by frame. Currently clocking in at almost twenty-seven minutes, Pruter’s cut of the film focuses on key scenes related to the development of Tippi Hedren’s character, Melanie Daniels, an outsider who becomes a target of mass hysteria. The artist leans into the over-the-top acting of Hitchcock’s era, offsetting the tension with humor.

At first, Pruter’s edits appear seamless. In the playground segment, children and adults dive and scream, flapping about as they flee an unseen menace from the sky. As the film progresses, the laborious process of erasure becomes more apparent; Pruter must imagine and rebuild what the source material never showed, filling in the freshly emptied spaces with a mix of figurative painting, animation, and a kind of weathering treatment that mimics the textures of the original celluloid.

Removal can be an effective aesthetic strategy—take, for instance, Nicky Coutts’s depopulated Bruegel paintings or Paul Pfeiffer’s images of ball-less basketball games—and artists like Douglas Gordon, Stan Douglas, and Rea Tajiri have previously mined Hitchcock’s oeuvre to different effects. Pruter’s dismantling and recontextualizing of the horror classic doesn’t offer any resolution, but rather closely meditates on fear itself. Loaded with symbolism, the phantom threat and the allegories it plays host to viscerally illustrate what it feels like to live in a state of anxiety.