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Stanya Kahn: No Go Backs

September 26, 2020 - January 10, 2021

Two people walk bicycles across an arid landscape. There is a snow-covered mountain in the background. A grey river creates a broad stripe through the middle of the frame, reflecting the grey sky.

Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist Stanya Kahn (b. 1968, San Francisco) works primarily in film and video, with a practice that includes drawing, sound, performance, sculpture and writing. Humor, pathos, and the uncanny are central to Kahn’s hybrid approach to moving image, which seeks to reorient relationships between fiction and document, the real and hyper-real, and varied expressions of time. Known for using improvisation and candid, real life scenarios, Kahn’s projects often center language as part of a long-term investigation of how rhetoric gains and loses power, as well as the impact of socio-political conditions on lived experience. This exhibition comprises three works by Kahn produced over the past ten years, including her latest short film, No Go Backs (2020), marking its Los Angeles debut. Together, these videos present an urgent reflection of our times, foregrounding global concerns such as climate change, racism, state power, and rebellion with the artist’s singular humor and embrace of experimental time and narrative.

Completed earlier this year, No Go Backs (2020), shot on Super 16mm film with an original sound score and no dialogue, follows two teenagers (and real life friends) who leave the city for the wild. Traveling north into the Eastern Sierra’s monumental landscapes, the pair traverse the haunted precarity of a collapsed world, in dreamlike states of distraction, malaise, and resilience. Braving harsh weather systems and difficult terrain minimally prepared, they travel quietly along sites connected to California’s historic water wars in the early 1900’s—conflicts between farmers, ranchers, and Los Angeles city government over water diversion projects which still impact the region today. The two eventually encounter other youth along the way, forming camaraderie in facing the unknown. A timely indictment of current crises and a meditation on an uncertain future, No Go Backs is a compressed, allegorical epic about an entire generation that must make a new way forward.

Stand in the Stream (2011–17) is an ambient digital feature film shot on multiple camera formats over the course of six years. The film’s vast and varied footage—all shot or screen-captured during livestreams by Kahn in real time—is edited to create a visceral reflection of life, power, and uprising in late capitalism. The film’s progression through different settings—domestic and public spaces, urban and natural scenes, online chat-rooms and home movies—is framed by the decline and death of the artist’s mother, a shipyard electrician and activist, with glimpses of Kahn’s own experience of motherhood and the toil of daily life. Stand in the Stream situates these intimacies within the shift of civic and digital landscapes over time, revealing the many intersections of the personal and the political.

It’s Cool, I’m Good (2010) features a severely injured protagonist (played by the artist), moving through twenty different locations in and around Los Angeles—from hospice to the desert and the sea—seducing, harassing and charming caretakers along the way. Sharing humorous anecdotes and questionable advice on living through difficult times, the bandaged character is at once narcissistic and self-deprecating, teetering between life and death. The video features a complex score, which simultaneously heightens and subverts the viewer’s experience of reality within the work. Economic collapse, urban tensions, and ecological demise are contexts for Kahn’s “patient,” whose metaphoric embodiment of overwhelming psychic and environmental stress remains relatable and prescient, ten years later.

Exhibition Screening Schedule
Wednesdays, Saturdays: No Go Backs (2020)
Total program runtime: 35 minutes
Screens at 12, 12:35, 1:05, 1:40, 2:15. 2:50, 3:25, 4, 4:35, 5:05

Thursdays: Stand in the Stream (2011–17) and No Go Backs (2020)
Total program runtime: 95 minutes
Stand in the Stream screens at 12, 1:35, 3:10, 4:45
No Go Backs screens at 1, 2:35, 4:10

Fridays, Sundays: No Go Backs (2020), Stand in the Stream (2011–17), and It’s Cool, I’m Good (2010)
Total program runtime: 130 minutes
No Go Backs screens at 12, 2:10, 4:20
Stand in the Stream screens at 12:35, 2:40, 4:55
It’s Cool, I’m Good screens at 1:35, 3:40

*Please note: times are approximate


Wheelchair accessible
Women artist(s)
Event Type
Museum, Visual Art, Performance Art, Sound Art, Film & Video
Pandemic Info
By Appointment


Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
1717 E 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90021 United States
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