The 59th Minute

Aïda Ruilova's psychologically charged and visually striking video Countdowns gives a dynamic twist to the tradition of countdowns. Projected on the giant Astrovision screen at One Times Square, where the infamous New Years Eve ball has dropped since 1907, the work infuses the site of the celebration with the artist's interpretation. Influenced by a range of counting references including Sesame Street, rockets blasting off to outer space, the countdown at the beginning of films, and of course, the international tradition of boisterously counting down the last 10 seconds of the year, Ruilova's rapid-fire images create a never-climaxing, never-ending countdown.

ESSAY by Martha Schwendener

What is the point of a countdown? To reach the bottom, the zero-sum point of no return where something dramatic happens: a rocket takes off; an old year ends and a new one begins. Times Square is the historic epicenter of countdowns, the site where the simple act of counting backwards is elevated to an event of massive proportions, televised around the world. How appropriate it is then, that Aïda Ruilova's Countdowns (2004) should appear here, amid the spectacle of people gathering for New Year's Eve. Times Square is a site of perpetual sensory overload, an artificial urban environment where ordinary cycles like day and night are disrupted by the permanent presence of images, light, and sound.

Countdowns was originally exhibited on a split screen, dividing viewers' attention between quick-cut images. Ruilova's jittery, frenetic editing conjures the jump cuts of New Wave cinema, musicians experimenting with tape loops and samples, and the rapid-fire stimuli of media sources like MTV. For The 59th Minute, Countdowns has been condensed into a single frame and blown up to fit the giant Astrovision screen. In this context, her video will both complement and compete with the onslaught of subliminal seduction from the flashing advertisements emitted throughout the square.

The catch, however, is that Ruilova disrupts our expectations of the countdown. The numbers that flash rapidly before viewers' eyes are expressed in cryptic, impermanent ways, and Ruilova subverts familiar and benign practices like the countdowns at the beginnings of old films, the numerological obsessions of birthday celebrations, and learning to count on Sesame Street into something unsettling and vaguely sinister. The number six is carved on a tree trunk, like an omen in the woods. Five appears on a sand dune that gets trampled by a lone climber. Two is a burning birthday candle, and seven emerges in the dirt under a bridge. The camera zooms in and out in each sequence subtly revealing more or less of the post-industrial landscape, lush woods, and mysterious people that inhabit the work.

While countdowns are usually finite, Ruilova's video repetitively goes through the motions of counting down, building to a climax that never actually occurs. The countdown is the climax, collapsed into the count itself. For one minute every hour, through New Year's Eve and into the new year, her work will reenact the ritual, the excitement, and the anticipation, of counting down.


Aïda Ruilova, born in West Virginia in 1974, lives and works in NYC. Shortlisted for the prestigious 2006 Guggenheim Hugo Boss Prize, Ruilova's work has been featured in numerous international film festivals and museum exhibitions including the 2004 Whitney Biennial, 50th La Biennale de Venezia, PS1 Greater New York, as well as in shows at The New Museum, Exit Art, White Columns, Bard College, and The Moore Space. The artist is represented by Salon 94 and Greenberg Van Doren Gallery.

  December 20, 2005 - March 6, 2006