The latest entry into the “quarantine art” canon, Project Space 13 is just another empty film with nothing substantive to say about our present moment.
To say that the last two years of human history were/have been rather trying would be, let’s not kid ourselves, the understatement of the century. But what might be even more taxing and relentless than the global pandemic-aided end of the world as we know it is the seemingly endless amount of art which has been hastily assembled to capture this moment in time’s precarious mood. Some of these works took on their own terminology and created their own lexicon — like the “quarantine album” (sorry to sound snide, but weren’t most albums technically made in “lockdown” before COVID?) being a small piece within the broad spectrum of “quarantine art” — all of which have already started to feel antiquated, even when they were being released during the height of the pandemic. Because of the stale, sort of obvious observations one could predict from these cultural products (oh wow, staying home all day sucks!) their usefulness rests squarely within their historical value rather than their qualitative impact. Enter Project Space 13, which has been released two years after news of the novel coronavirus but is set during the first day of lockdown — and like most rushed features which have touched on many of the same subjects, it has nothing of any real interest to convey about the haptic state of society beyond merely capitalizing on a discordant vibe.
To be fair, there’s at least some social commentary to be found in the film, albeit located in many tired jabs aimed at the pretentious nature of the NY art scene, which usually consists of oblivious characters’ self-aggrandizement — but they all lack any period-specificity, so much so that they could have been dumped by any other up-and-coming Brooklyn-based Sundance darling and one would hardly notice any difference. In fact, most of them were featured in one of director Michael M. Bilandic’s previous efforts: 2013’s Hellaware, which followed wannabe-photographer/culture vulture Nate (Keith Poulson) as he liberally appropriated Juggalo culture in order to secure some sweet, sweet clout. Nate returns here — Project Space 13 is something of a stealth sequel to Hellaware in protagonist only, as there’s nothing else that feasibly connects the two — as a victim of unfortunate circumstance: on the night of his new one-man show at an esteemed Manhattan gallery (described early on as a piece which “dwells at the intersection of art and technology” by the gallery’s owner), the city shuts down due to COVID. Refusing to leave his bizarrely conceived exhibit — which includes locking himself in a giant white cage for 120 days and being occasionally tortured by a small robot named Zebos — the gallery hires two security guards (Bilandic regular Theodore Bouloukos and Hunter Zimny) to protect Nate from oncoming protestors. This basic expository setup, which takes place within the film’s first six minutes, leads way to an hour of straight-up fucking around; there’s reasonably little that separates the remaining runtime from say, an SNL skit that for some reason has an overqualified DP on deck (Sean Price Williams, per usual, is on his A-Game here). The three trade barbed jabs at one another and make irreverent, irony-fueled shitpost-esque references (does anyone remember The Monuments Men?) that are, at absolute best, mildly amusing; by the mid-section, they become outright excruciating, and unwatchable by the end, with little to no formal variation breaking things up — this was shot in four days and in every way looks (primarily shot at one location) and feels (sluggish pacing) it — making this another piece of “quarantine art” which comes up predictably short on offering anything remotely substantive.
You can currently watch Michael M. Bilandic’s Project Space 13 at the Roxy Theater or streaming on Mubi beginning on December 10.