What Happens When an Award-Winning Documentary Filmmaker Turns to Visual Art?

Laura Poitras takes her preoccupations of government overreach to New York City's Whitney Museum in a landmark exhibition.

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Whether you think of her as a hero or a traitor, Laura Poitras has made a significant impact on our perceptions of the American government and the world of documentary filmmaking. Her latest work comes in a different form: Today, the Whitney Museum in New York City presents Astro Noise, an exhibition of Poitras's visual works and architectural interventions. The five interrelated installations span an entire floor of the museum with video footage, photographs, and written materials exploring the same themes of government surveillance and post-9/11 America that have characterized her films (most notably Citizenfour, which told the story of Edward Snowden and earned her an Academy Award last year).

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Laura Poitras attends the 42nd Chaplin Award Gala at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on April 27, 2015 in New York City.

Leading into the exhibition are images that appear as colorful sound waves—they are intercepted footage from Israeli and Syrian drone fields. In another area, a darkened room houses 20 boxes, each with a shaft of light that summons ideas of hidden information; the title of the work, "Disposition Matrix," is taken from the military term for the list of terrorism suspects. Similarly interactive, "Bed Down Location," a room in which viewers are asked to lie down and gaze upward, is meant to evoke empathy about drone warfare; these immersive environments deepen the experience of Poitras's work. "I very much like the idea of creating a space that challenges the viewer and asks them to make decisions," Poitras said in a statement put out by the Whitney. "My films are about these questions—what do people do when confronted with choices and risks?"

Astro Noise is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through May 1. For more information, visit whitney.org

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