Finding a seat in a crowded Miller Theater, Columbia University, the artist next to me is whispering about the difference between poetry and utility. This could have been an equally good title for this evening, which instead went under the heading ‘Refiguring the Spiritual.’ Then Anderson takes the stage, with the look of an inquisitive child, in an over-sized wrinkled shirt and red socks and shoes. She is alone; she will later be surrounded by three tall people, the art historian and critic Irving Sandler, the painter Gregory Amenoff—who is chair of the Visual Art department at Columbia University—and the philosopher Mark C. Taylor, who is chair of the Department of Religion. These esteemed interlocutors will spend the evening, like the audience, leaning slightly forward, focusing on her intently.
She starts by stating that art is not about making the world a better place. ‘If it was, for who? For you? For you?” I disagree. Art is for making the world a better place for me (this is less megalomaniacal than it sounds). I think of a quote which I, for decades, misascribed to Nietzsche but which is instead by Goethe:
“If the possible has become impossible I must allow myself to believe that the impossible must become possible.”
Art allows us to think the impossible. Art inelegantly, violently or tepidly, consciously or by haphazard, trips over the space between.
Anderson moves on to Herman Melville. I would have thought her affinities closer to the story-generating talents of Laurence Sterne, but then remember that a comedienne needs a straight man. She references what she sees as the central question in Moby Dick:
“What is a man if he outlives the lifetime of his God?”
He is a man who has picked a strange god, I think, or not watered him or her sufficiently (insert image of a dying Chia pet). My atheist upbringing shows.
She talks of important things. Overconsumption. The deadening influence of the art market. She came of age, oh not so very long ago, when the art world viewed money with suspicion, and financial success was equated with selling out. She talks of small electronic devices that steal people’s concentration. But this kind of direct talk is not what she excels at. She excels at telling small stories about the familiar with a twist—a what if.
A notable story about Jesus. How we are lucky, from an art-historical point of view, that Jesus was in the New Testament, which punished blasphemy through crucifixion, and not in the Old, which decreed death by stoning. She conjures, arms akimbo, the central image of the Passion—Jesus on an upright, centralized cross replaced by a prone figure surrounded by a chaotic array of stones—forever changing the history of art and architecture.
She tells of a formative year in her life where she decided not to get out of bed until she had an idea. I want this year. She addresses the students in the audience (we’re all students) telling us:
“Do not wait for someone to ask you to do something,”
This echoes more direct advice that experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer recently gave to my video students:
“Ask for what you want.”
Editing comedy, I learned that it’s all about timing. Making an edit a little too early or a little too late makes something funny. On the beat, it’s not. Anderson’s work is also about this timing— leaving an off-shaped space for the contingent, the invisible, the poignant—and there is something very poignant about her elf-like presence.
“We’re here to have a really, really, really good time. (Off beat). A good time.”
The audience inhales, Anderson looks up at us, then down at her hands, and we laugh.
What is the difference between poetry (little explosions in the brain) and utility (home improvement)?
*Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are putting together a not-to-be-missed month of programming at the incredible music venue The Stone
I’m in Norway for the Norwegian Short Film Festival in the storybook holiday town of Grimstad. White wood houses, boat trips, fresh shrimp and a diverse selection of films, many of the Norwegian films straight out of film school with very big budgets (jealous).
And then there’s the light. When one is in it, it feels sharp and bright, it privileges the national color blue. For many hours this light approaches silver.
Does the quality of light change a culture? I think it must, although I don’t know how to quantify.
I heard today that within a year all Norwegian cinemas, from the largest stadium theater to the tiny traveling cinemas which operates briefly during the summer will no longer project from film, making Norway the first country to go completely digital. It is a move heavily motivated and partially funded by Hollywood. This relationship with Hollywood is long established – Norway is frequently used by the American film industry as a test country for films before they are distributed to the rest of Europe. (Two facts about the film industry here: most of the film funding comes from the government and the first Norwegian film school opened in 1997.) Hollywood’s promise to Norwegian theaters – that the new, very expensive digital projection technology that will be installed will hold steady for 10 years (and if there’s a bridge you want to buy I know of one available in Brooklyn).
There’s a big part of me (my back, my hands, my brain, my left leg) that doesn’t like (hates) to see things change. Digital projection has improved and as a long-time video user who only uses film intermittently I’m not going to argue that film is ‘better.’ It is different – and the end of film means one less tool, one less texture, a range of colors no longer available. The filmmaker Tom Kalin, who shoots exquisite S8 images, reminded me of this recently, speaking of the end of Kodachrome. I recently sent Tom the last few rolls of Kodachrome I’d been saving in my freezer.
Digital projection will certainly hasten the end of film, which is currently dying out film stock by film stock. It is interesting to think back to Wim Wender’s film from 1976, shot in glorious b&w 35mm – about a guy who fixes 35mm projectors. It is an ode to the end of neighborhood cinemas. Here’s a fragment of the film from YouTube (the moving image is dead, long live the moving image)
Wender’s film leads me to a still relevant question – what will digital projection mean for the truly independent (no budget, non-traditional, marginal) moving image producers and small neighborhood cinemas? For producers, there may be a lowering of the bar, digital projection eliminating the need for hugely expensive 35mm prints. Neighborhood cinemas may or may not fair so well, they certainly won’t be able to ante up for a 2 or a 4k projector.
The people I talked to here are not at all optimistic – they’re predicting cinemas that are connected via satellite to a central server – a mainline to mainstream Hollywood. But if this mainline consists only in movies that audiences don’t want to see (as in much of what Hollywood is producing right now) the industry and the cinemas may be best served by keeping access open.
Format finally doesn’t matter. Access does. Making images that represent, capture, poke prod these new times forward with tiny sharp shards of light, this is what matters above all (and this is a very difficult thing to do in any medium).
Derrida writes in Of Grammatology that it is “a power proper to man, according to which he uses his organs in this way, and which if he lacked these, would lead him to use others to the same end.”
Vulnerability – this word has followed me recently, triggered by several events and five women. I’ve been trying to write about this in a clear way for a while, and I suspect that my difficulty has to do with my own relationship to this charged word. I’ll try once again to retrace the path.
The first instance was during a talk by Yoko Ono as she recounted various performances of “CUT” where Ono offers herself up, seated and passive, to an audience that cuts off bits of her clothes. Ono says the work is about love. In the black and white documentation of the performances is the wrenching memory of Vietnamese monks immolating themselves, here less violent, it is the audience that sets the blaze.
A performance in London is polite, another in Paris is a male feeding frenzy. For a more recent performance Ono goes against the tenor of our times, declining the presence of guards or metal detector. In an act of irrational protectiveness her son, who never attends her performances or exhibitions flies in to be there. This famous family has known physical violence at close range. The distance between Ono’s performance as a woman in her 20′s and as a woman in her 70′s, both visually and in terms of her own changed position and experience, is vast. The earlier iterations of this performance are powerful, the later even more so.
At the talk, an astute member of the audience asks (unanswered) “Do you see vulnerability as a structuring principle?” (Do I see vulnerability as a structuring principle?) This surprise question leads me to think about the ‘use value’ (particularly for women) of putting ourselves into a fragile/dangerous situation. Ono’s precarious arrangement, bringing together a woman and a sharp object, is not an uncommon one. What is uncommon is that a woman puts herself into this situation freely and in public, and makes the audience/us complicit in testing the limits. How far will we go in this situation, how far will we allow others to go w/out interceding.
Yes, the performance is about vulnerability, and yes she offers herself up, but not only – it’s also a dare – a very free fuck-you in a nonviolent-resistance kind of way. This brings to mind Kimsooja‘s powerful “Needle Woman” performances where she locates herself unmoving in the street– a woman making her meditation a still point that everyone else has to negotiate.
All of us are in some way responsible for and benefit from the vulnerability of others – our society feeds off of this vulnerablity. And like it or not, choosing or not, we all currently share a high level of vulnerability ourselves – economically, physically, environmentally. After September 11th, the American response to vulnerability was both obvious – the initiation of several wars, the buying of Humvees, and counter intuitive – people flocking to live in New York City. In the art world we have seen a proliferation of monumental, extravagantly expensive projects, both permanent as in Serra’s proliferation of arcs, Koon’s entombing of ribbons, balloons and other fleeting objects in stainless steel, and ephemeral, Eliasson’s waterfalls on the East River, his sun at the Tate. Does this art which is magical in its spectacle and mastery speak to this vulnerability, or is it a symptom? (I think of my own choice to work in video, the most immaterial of materials.)
The next encounter – the naked people taking part in the MoMA Marina Abramovic exhibition. Warm and well-guarded, they are vulnerable above all to the looks of others. Still their young perfect bodies offer a protection absent from the constant presence/exposure of Abramovic’s exhausted face.
Next comes the scene from Avatar where Sigourney Weaver, pale, curled, naked, is surrounded by oddly colored avatars with the flesh of inflated Lycra. [[I couldn't find the film still, I add below as a placeholder]] This image and the relationship between live action and character generated characters in this film, go far in summing up the dreams, nightmares and zeitgeist of our times.
The most recent moment this word arrived unbidden in my brain (for the sake of blog brevity anyway) was during the Nancy Spero memorial, held in the Great Hall of Cooper Union.
Death, by definition, brings up thoughts of vulnerability but this was not the trigger for me. It was a particular image that brought this word back into my mind.
The image – a close-up of a figure from Spero’s clothesline. This clothesline is a true anti-monument in which, amidst a small red bra, a large black bra, a variety of different underwear, are strung a repeating figure, printed on thin paper which moves with the wind. The material is fragile. The figure is female, she has her eyes open wide. And she is gleefully, knowingly spreading apart her vaginal lips.
This repeating female figure has incredible power. She is open; she is in no way vulnerable.
Spero’s take on vulnerability is a good one I think, an honest, actual one that moves us forward. Made of flimsy material, as we all are, this repeating figure, occupies and gives power, takes place in our quotidian. Through this character’s repeated, gesture, Spero achieves a direct, celebratory and matter of fact (not flirtatious, with no hint of victimhood) exposing/revealing of, what our (male) society refuses to look at (because it makes us/them feel vulnerable?
I write this from a sunny place where ‘the dark times’ are spoken about often. Last week in Buenos Aires I watched as the cats recuperated their space after closing time at the botanical gardens. Tonight I spent time watching the dogs sleeping in front of my hotel in Mar del Plata. It is easier to look at and photograph vulnerability in animals.
Movie lights surround Abramovic as MoMA’s atrium is turned into a film set (MoMA is slowly figuring out how to use this vast, cold space which is its center). Three HD cameras record Abramovic’s performance at all times and a man with a still camera stands behind Abramovic, taking extreme close-ups of each person who sits across from her. There are signs alerting the public that whoever enters acknowledges consent to being videotaped and photographed, giving up all rights to these images.
There are other signs stating that no photographs can be taken in the atrium, and there are guards set up at either ends to insure that this doesn’t occur. Luck only for those with a long lens.
There is no photography allowed in any part of the Abramovic show, there was no photography allowed in the recent Tino Seghal show at the Guggenheim or of any other Seghal piece for that matter, there was no photography and even more egregious, no note taking(!) allowed in the Urs Fischer show at the New Museum. I’ve spent the last few years fighting with everyone and anyone who has challenged my right to shoot in public spaces. Granted, a museum is a private form of public space and we’re surrounded by ever more of these hybrid spaces as true public space shrinks.
I understand that museums have the ‘right’ to forbid any activity on their premises. But by denying viewers’ rights while invoking their own, what kind of controlling (precious) atmosphere do these museums and artists want to promote? It seems to put us back several decades in terms of the positioning and passivity of the viewer. These tactics also mimic those of large information-gathering corporations as well as our own government’s Department of Homeland Security. What is up here?
*A woman artist is in the building – joining Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Elizabeth Murray and Lee Bontecou (different building) as the only women in the 81-year history of MoMA to have had retrospectives (pathetic, sad, amazing, infuriating).
*Naked people are in the building.
*A medium shot of the artist pushing her breasts towards the sky; a wide shot of women, the artist among them, lifting their dark skirts and squatting so their bare vaginas come into contact with the wet earth; an aerial shot of men humping a hill of green grass, resembling a swarm of fleshy insects – the video, Balkan Erotic Epic, is on display in the building.
I grew up in NYC. Like many New Yorkers, I think of the Met, the Brooklyn Museum and MoMA as ‘my’ museums. New Yorkers are provincial; we’re possessive.
This partially explains the uncanny feeling I had walking through the exhibition Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, seeing actual naked people on display. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for MoMA despite my feeling that it was historically ‘modern,’ a bit stodgy and from my Grandfather’s time. I never located it as an institution that courted controversy, particularly when related to issues of gender or sex.
My view of MoMA, much to my surprise and pleasure, has now shifted and this shift cannot be underestimated. Something has changed here.
First I want to say that I am really pleased that there are naked people, male and female, inhabiting the public space in the Museum of Modern Art. Inhale. Exhale.
Ok. The show. The first performance I encounter walking through the first room of the show, with its heady mix of projections, photographs, grimaces and screams, is Imponderabilia. Historically a favorite of mine, this iteration is the most functioning ‘live’ piece in the exhibition, aside from Abramovic’s presence in the atrium. That said, it’s not nearly as strong as the original, performed in Bologna in 1977 (click on the photo above). This is in part due to the performers lack of intensity compared to Ulay and Abramovic; it is also severely architecturally challenged.
MoMA, not quite ready to make it a prerequisite to walk between two naked people to enter an exhibition, puts the piece in the back, arranging a much larger, unencumbered pathway up front. Thus placed, Imponderabilia becomes a spectator sport, with many watching and few daring to pass in between. When I walked through, the piece was performed by a short woman with a tattoo on her back reading ‘remember to remember’ and a tall man with a notably long penis – perhaps slightly erect (what is known in the industry as ‘a chubby’). These details, particular to the performers, made the performance better (remember this thought).
Have I told you that I love the idea of naked people in MoMA? That said, some of the other performances, naked or clothed (Point of Contact, Nude with Skeleton) function more like living illustrations or documentation surrounded by other forms of documentation. They are less vibrant than some of the flickering videos or grainy b&w photographs.
A disturbing piece, Luminosity, did have, and benefited from its own room. A brightly lit person naked, hanging from a bicycle seat, is seemingly impaled onto the wall. The first time I saw it, the performer was a perfectly coiffed perfectly bodied woman (possible candidate for a Vanessa Beecroft piece). Her expression stricken and blank; she was clearly uncomfortable, not so much physically as from finding herself exposed like this. The piece felt exploitative. (I must confess I spent time checking out the various modes of wearing or eradicating body hair). The second time I entered it was performed by another woman with a more particular body and a stronger presence. She looked out into the horizon, then down at me, then to the man behind me, and then up again, readjusting, suffering, processing, thinking. The return of my/our gaze was crucial in establishing that she was other than an object. Abramovic says this piece is about spirituality; the first performer did hit and hold the Jesus on the cross position at one point, for what it’s worth.
There is much controversy around the issue of ‘reperformance’. And the works here do suffer from the deviation from the initial impulse of ‘no predicted end, no repetition’ as they lose vibrancy and present-tenseness. We know that they are scripted and repeated, as opposed to when they were first performed when they were question marks waiting to unfold. An interesting thing about working with the body as subject/object/material, is that part of the body’s functioning is involuntary. Rumor has it a male performer was removed because of his errant hard-on – a real pity – but didn’t Freud say that the weather is always bad in the land of sexuality?
There can be strength in reperforming when the specific performer (preferably one that is fabulous) truly makes the piece their own. Abramovic did just that during her week in 2005 at the Guggenheim and the results were riveting. Vito Acconci, another consummate alas lapsed performer, said that by reperforming the work becomes theater. Ok, I like theater, but then it better be good theater. And if it’s going to be good theater then a major principle must be adhered to: CASTING, CASTING, CASTING. In the case of the MoMA show, it might have been better to pick from actors or non-performers, as opposed to uniformly young, attractive dancer or model types trained in having their bodies do as they are told. I longed for particularity and diversity in age, race, shape, muscle tone, etc. Or howsabout if the actors/performers had been given the chance to interpret/truly become the performance. Well this would have been a different show.
Abramovic’s performance The Artist is Present is in the main atrium; the person, the artist, the woman has arrived. Queen-like in her red dress, she is otherwise sweaty and exhausted, her expression turned in on itself. When a person stands up, Abramovic allows herself a few minutes of pause, putting her head down, readjusting her limbs, wiping her face. We, the audience, witness her struggle.
Here’s an impromptu video sketch I shot at Yaddo one rainy night last summer of the wonderously shape-shifting performance artist John Kelly improvising to Intermezzo in A minor Opus 76 by Brahms. Inspired by a dance party a few nights earlier, the pool table, with its single minimalist fluorescent, seemed a perfect stage for John’s mix of humor and drama.
Other details: the mosquitoes were biting, the darkened pool house felt like a horror movie waiting to happen, the green felt proved surprisingly rough. We did not go for a swim afterwards, just scurried back to our rooms to bed. Now, aside for the video tape evidence, it’s as if it never happened, like the memory of a short vivid dream
Many thanks to Yaddo for providing the setting, the time and the mix of comrades that make such unlikely collaborations possible.
Robert Bresson, in his incisive sentences on sound states: if the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear. One cannot be at the same time all eye and all ear.
Nathaniel Dorsky, voluptuous provider for the eye, makes silent films. The silence isn’t an absence, as the soundtrack – the creaks, breathing, rumbling of the subway is provided by the audience and whatever space we, the audience, are inhabiting together. It is an intimate soundtrack, at times indiscrete.
The gaping difference between what can be seen and what can be said
The films are so purely visual as to be difficult or impossible to describe with language. Or at least I claim defeat after sitting here, time passing, fingers mute. I can describe a shot: a woman extricating a carriage from a storefront door, followed by two small blond children. I could say the low angled light picked out particular ever changing details and outlines, leaving others to fall off into abstraction or that there was an uncanny layering to the space or that this light was heartbreaking, in that in thirty seconds it would be gone, vanished. This description would not convey in any way what I saw or explain the effect that it had on me, as I found myself holding my breathe for the duration of the shot. Watching his films makes me want to go outside and look and shoot and try to see the way he does. Does this mean I want to steal something of his approach? Is there any such thing as stealing? Isn’t all this stuff we’re creating in dialogue?
Dorsky was invited to screen four recent films at the Museum of Modern Art last Monday in a program curated by Jytte Jensen that he described as almost a performance, in that it is so rare these days to project from 16mm film.
Dorsky didn’t talk about his films; he instead created a parallel stand up comedy routine on the precariousness of film and showing film, of movement, change and life. A question from the audience pointing to this disjunction: “Have you ever considered making a comedy?”
A question from Dorsky: “What do they call cameras these days?” (the word camera, coming from room or chamber, so evocative for both how it works and what it captures). Someone yells from the audience “phone”, laughter, then someone else arrives at the phrase Dorsky was looking for: “image capturing device.” Image. Capturing. Device (is the image capturing the device?)
Dorsky posits that the screening may mark the end of Kodachrome, the film stock that he has been shooting since he was ten. ‘Aubade’ was shot on a new stock called Vision, a word that comes out of his mouth with some difficulty. The color range of Kodachrome so specific – irreplaceable and evocative in the way only childhood memories can be; this marks the start of a new relationship. He says he approached the new stock as one would a new lover you aren’t used to, that you don’t really know or trust or don’t quite know what to do with,
“‘I didn’t want to go too far too fast with it.”
I wonder if I have this sensual/sexual relationship to video. There’s a way I handle my camera once it is ‘mine’, the rough familiarity of its feel in my hand; I don’t like it when it’s new, it feels clumsy, I feel clumsy. I like it when I can forget, when the subconscious takes over – when it’s an interaction between this boxy object and my eye, I use it as a facilitator, enabler and protection, allowing me to be intent on looking at what’s moving about in front of me, out of my control. I could say, hackneyed or not, it’s like a dance where the music and physicality allows my brain to function in a different way that’s less calculated. But now I’m getting off topic.
I try again to describe Nathaniel Dorsky’s films: small revelations, light, sensuality, mysteries, layers, light, sensual, movement, movement, movement, light, dark, dark, light, dark. I’m getting nowhere.
“These films have nothing to do with language – not the title, not what I’m saying about them. They are what they are.” I’m off the hook. He talks about when he was young and life was like a Christmas tree filled with ornaments, and that each year, another one goes away – and that now must be a hard time to be young (is this true?).
I don’t remember the last question Nick Dorsky was asked, but I do remember the summing up:
“I want to make something beautiful
something of me on a very good day, of mine, the best of me.
I want to try to leave something behind that will be helpful.”
Lorraine O’Grady spoke with Sanford Biggers and RoseLee Goldberg at MoMA. This event, both fascinating and way too short considering the territory it could have covered, was co-sponsored by an organization I never knew existed – The Friends of Education of the Museum of Modern Art. It was founded in 1993 – the same year that buttons by Daniel Joseph Martinez were handed out at the Whitney Biennial reading “I Can’t Imagine Ever Wanting to Be White.” The mission of the Friends of Education is to foster a greater appreciation of art created by African American artists…’ (hmmmm, how’re we doing?)
I’m embarrassed (frustrated?) to say that I knew nothing about Lorraine O’Grady till this fall, when I saw a series of her photographs in the Alexander Grey booth at Art Basel Miami, documenting her 1983 piece “Art Is…” O’Grady’s answer to a comment by a non-artist acquaintance: “avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with black people.” The performance was done during the African-American Day Parade on 125th Street, and the photographs had more life and vitality than most of the other art on display at Art Basel.
Lorraine O’Grady referring to her non-traditional career trajectory stated that she was post black before she was black – attending Wellesley and then working in a hyper-elite state department job. It wasn’t until she situated herself within the cultural arena of the art world, deciding at 45 to become an artist, that she became black/excluded. Then came a sentence that reverberated: “culture tends to be the ultimate barrier to equality.”
Looking at the history of O’Grady’s art over the past several decades, it’s surprising that she is just now getting wider recognition. Or it should be surprising; unfortunately most women of her generation have come up against difficulty (how’re we doing?) Most people of color of her generation have come up against difficulty (how’re we doing?) And then I think to the exquisitely pleasurable and painful problem of making work that is both confrontational and ahead of its time; exquisitely painful because it will, by definition, run into all sorts of resistance.
“My work is a function of living life at the extreme of misunderstanding – when who you are isn’t taken into account let alone misunderstood.”
I’m sending you the color Xerox series By Any Other Name today by Priority Mail. My form is enclosed, and I’ve written a characteristically opaque note on the back of it, which you may use or not as you see fit.
The images themselves, as you will see, take up a bit of space. Do not feel, if they seem boring or tenuous, under any special obligation to use all of them, or indeed any of them. I am aware that the group (there’s a part two on the burner, by the way) rides roughshod over the notions of both subtlety and coherence: a mild triumph, in my book, but others may not find themselves tickled in the same spots I do.
In any case, I hope well for your show. It is about time that filmmakers be allowed outside the gilded ghetto of cinema: after all, the painting and sculpture gangs invade our turf without so much as a by your leave, and almost invariably there is hysterical applause for that It reminds me of the Spanish “discovery” of gold in South America. The Incas had already dug it out of the ground.
It is a pleasure to find a fellow traveler on the craggly unmarked path of the moving image. I never physically met Frampton, and now it’s too late, but the magic of books - that I could spend an hour this morning, in my Chinatown coffee shop, cajoling, arguing, conversing with this man.
“This is not to say that there is no such thing as art, or that everything is art; rather, it is to state that there can be no certainty, no final determination, about where we may expect to find art, or about how we are to recognize it when we do find it.” Notes on Composing in Film, Hollis Frampton, written for and delivered at the Conference on Research in Composition at the State University of New York at Buffalo in October, 1975
I used to be in a field (video) where there wasn’t any market interest whatsoever. The upside of this could be summed up in five words:
“DO WHATEVER YOU FUCKING WANT”
NO MARKET (often, not always) = INVISIBILITY
The last bunch of years (is there a connection between the fall of the left here?) have seen formerly market-resistant art forms (video, conceptual art) aggressively move, or in the case of performance art, try to move into the marketplace. It is no surprise that much of this work has become more conservative and less relevant (I’ve long felt that conceptual art, for example, has entered into its ‘baroque’ phase). These forms, when they mutate, have the market-friendly (ever evident in commercial advertising tropes) ‘smell’ of resistance/avant-garde/edginess/revolutionary tendencies, without actually HAVING them. They must, almost by definition, take on the dominant values of the larger world, though there’s certainly interesting leakage and contradictions that can occur (again, also very evident in commercial television).
But let’s be frank, rich people are for the most part not the most politically left-leaning/civic-minded/risk-taking/open-minded/liberal-even/please fill in your hyphenated two words here. Rich people are intent on preserving and increasing their…wealth. Their/our pursuit of ever-increasing consumption levels has always been politically negative and socially reprehensible, and it is even more so in our current world circumstances.
As I write the above, it all seems more than self evident – and yet this strongly goes against the current assumptions in the art world that:
SELLING = GOOD
What has motivated this semi-diatribe? The current article/s in the New York Times on performance art. I will not come down on either side yet (should it be re-performed, should it be editioned and sold…)
I just want to point out how far down the road we’ve come, and what a strange place we now find ourselves in.
Perhaps this is enough. A black and white image of a woman, freckled, wind in her hair, hand up to her mouth, looking off camera.
Now that I’ve got you here under false pretenses, assuming that anyone else is here aside from me, I’d like to place a marker on this time of YouTube.
I came of age when a camera cost $80,000 and editing equipment was unaffordable and inaccessible – this is how I ended up working for 15 years in ‘the industry.’ After a particular video was finished, then followed the hurdle of distribution. Video artists were rejected by the art world due to lack of collector/commercial value and rejected by film festivals due to lack of…film. Broadcast television was out of reach, except for a lucky few that had been deigned safe for awkward slots on PBS. We hated the passivity of television and dreamt of a truly interactive, democratic, messy, anarchistic tv.
I was reminded of all of this twice, first by a passing comment in Berlin on how YouTube was giving people an attention span of 20 seconds, and then, when reading Ed Halter‘s lovely essay television for the people on Jeff Krulik, director of Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Krulik made the video for a public access television station (public television was also where I got my start in Ithaca, NY), and also Public Access Gibberish made up of ‘notable’ clips from his station. Watching a man in a purple jumpsuit stating ‘my name is Timothy, I come from the bottom of the sea’ I realized how Public Access was post-vaudeville and pre-YouTube, albeit with the added value of a cheap television studio and use of the solidity of a tripod. Few artists (Jeff Turtletaub being the best example I can think of) truly succeeded at using Public Access as a platform for interesting work.
Fast forwarding (brrrrrrrrrr) several decades. Now we’re in a time of broad access to both video cameras and editing (the means of production) as well as the Internet (YouTube, Vimeo, etc) as a cheap or free means of distribution. This could represent a kind of democratic opportunity. Perhaps I should change that word to should. Anyway, nice typing those words in the same sentence – democracy, opportunity.