The sober joy of thieving

I’m happy to have my review of Judith Rodenbeck’s Radical Prototypes: Allan Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings published in the current issue of Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts. Rodenbeck’s framework for conceptualizing happenings is central to the discourse surrounding art and the everyday in the 1960s. An excerpt from the review here below:

With her narrative, Rodenbeck deliberately sidesteps the dualism of formalism and the avant-garde that has dominated many of the art historical narratives of the 1960s. If happenings are best characterized as intermediary, open-ended, relational, and interdisciplinary, then their historicization would do well to reflect this, she reasons. Her book calls for and models a scholarly “matrix through which to approach a generation of postwar artistic efforts” (27). Her contribution lies in a series of individual “material, rhetorical, and discursive” histories (18) that enhance ourunderstanding of what happenings were and what they aspired to be. The wealth of material on the sociological climates, the architectural practices, the technological metaphors, the theatrical methodologies, and the photographic conditions that surrounded happenings acts like connective tissue, shaping and securing them within art history.
In this sense, then, the art historical matrix to which Rodenbeck contributes should be thought of as a sort of expanded field for happenings where the artworks of Kaprow and company are no longer contrasted with painting alone but with all other experimental intermedia and the areas of inquiry intermedia shares: the everyday, the aleatory, and the participatory. Measured and formal in tone, preeminently readable at the same time, Rodenbeck’s book is often like an unexpected treasure hunt amidst the presumed familiar.
“Let’s look for traces of civilization!” the trio in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962) exclaim delightedly to one another as they wander through a wooded area to the beach. Readers of Rodenbeck’s histories are led to wander, too, finding known documents, theories, and artworks linked freshly and illuminatingly to one another.

Absence note

Many little IRL projects (and one little IRL person) have kept me from updating my site on a regular basis. I miss thinking in this format, and hope to get back to posting at least twice a month in the near future.

History in the present tense

I’ve written in the past on this site of my rewarding experiences at the Flaherty Film Seminar. This intense week of experimental media art and documentary film reliably delivers on its promise of thought-provoking and hotly debated film programming. In 2013, the seminar was programmed by Pablo de Ocampo, currently Exhibitions Curator at Vancouver’s Western Front. It was a fantastic week of film and video, and I wrote an extensive review of it for volume 3 issue 1 of MIRAJ, the Moving Image Review & Art Journal. An excerpt here:

A film still from the finale of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) was the Seminar’s leitmotif, featuring prominently in publicity materials as a representation of the conceptual work to be accomplished at the gathering. In the wild joy of mutinous seamen greeting another battleship in solidarity with their uprising, de Ocampo indicated his intentions for the kind of history and the kind of happenings on which the week would focus. It was a history that film was continually heralding, retrieving and revising; a history of collectivities both utopian (insurgent groups and jazz collectives) and dystopian (occupied territories and people’s militias); a history of ecstatic or transgressive affect; and a history of films that struggle on two fronts, politicizing the form in which they convey political subject matter.

Queen Mother Moore’s Speech at Greenhaven Prison, a video made in 1973 by the community collective, the People’s
Communication Network opened and closed the Flaherty. It operated in the Seminar as a conceptual reverse shot to Eisenstein’s seamen, a response across the decades to their call of brotherhood and revolution. In it, civil rights activist Queen Mother Moore stands at a microphone set up outside of the walls of the Greenhaven Correctional Facility in Connecticut. She recounts a moment of armed resistance from her youth, in which a black audience who had gathered to hear Marcus Garvey in New Orleans successfully forced white officials to rescind their ban on his scheduled speech.

Moore asks, ‘How do you go, determined to keep the powers
that be from preventing your leader from speaking to you?’. In Moore’s Jim Crow-era South, the answer was to arrive at the lecture with guns and satchels of ammunition. Her question lingers throughout the seventeen-minute address, posed to the unseen men in the prison behind her, the group of fellow activists assembled in front of her, and to the contemporary viewers who encounter this video.

In her question is embedded the belief that the act of speaking and securing speech may be the only retribution possible in a society that does not see its own systemic crime in the histories of its individual criminals. Thieves like the ones that both Queen Mother Moore and the seamen on the Battleship Potemkin call ‘brothers’ are the product of centuries of social, political and economic theft. Speech, de Ocampo’s programming suggested, is symbolic reparation. It cannot promise actual reparation, but it is the only thing that actualizes its potential.

Subversion des images

Here below: the photographs that Paul Nougé took between 1929 and 1930 that were published as a series by Marcel Mariën in 1968. (Click to enlarge.)

These are from a little treasure file of scans I’ve made that I keep for future research inspiration. For some reason I only have 17 images of a supposed set of 19. I’ll have to figure out which ones I missed. “Subversion of images” indeed…!

La jongleuse

La jongleuse

Les profondeurs du sommeil

Les profondeurs du sommeil

La naissance de l'objet

La naissance de l’objet

La vengeance

La vengeance

Femme dans l'escalier

Femme dans l’escalier

...les oiseaux vous poursuivent

…les oiseaux vous poursuivent

Le bras revelateur

Le bras revelateur

Le grenier

Le grenier

Les vendanges du sommeil

Les vendanges du sommeil

Manteau suspendu dans le vide

Manteau suspendu dans le vide

Femme effrayée par une ficelle

Femme effrayée par une ficelle

Table aimantée, tombeau du poete

Table aimantée, tombeau du poete

Cils coupés

Cils coupés

Mur murmure

Mur murmure

Les buveurs

Les buveurs

Linges et cloche

Linges et cloche

Le lecteur

Le lecteur

The set is conventionally interpreted in terms of its photographic self-reflexivity. Frédéric Thomas suggests that what Nougé subverts is documentation, the representative real.

It’s true that the zaniness of these photos lies in missing or irrational objects that are literally being “signed” or “indicated” to viewers. In this sense, the indexicality of analogue photography is repeatedly exposed as all indexing, no “thing itself.”

However, I like the idea that Subversion des images is less medium-specific than it may first appear.

Mariën suggested in 1968 that the series was the starting point for Les images défendues (1943), Nougé’s theory of René Magritte’s paintings. In this sense, Nougé’s interest in subverting images overrides any category of image in particular. He stresses process, instead. His statements that accompany this photographic series explain his intent to make spectators “play at perverting objects” (Nougé 17). In Subversion of Images, making and looking are part of the same subversive “methodical exploration,” which consists of:

Choosing an action performed through an object or on an object and modifying this object while perfectly maintaining the gesture or attitude of the chosen action (Nougé 1968: 19-20)

I find this to be a very rich and very intermedial artistic project. Subversion of Images is like a wrinkle in art historical time, an artwork that arrives at Surrealism by way of Fluxus.

Further reading on Subversion des Images:

Ana Gonzalez Salvador, “Nougé et l’action photographié: la pensée faite corps,” Francofonìa 13 2004, 53-70.

Frédéric Thomas, “Towards a Minor Surrealism: Paul Nougé and The Subversion of Images” Minor Photography: Connecting Deleuze and Guattari to Photography Theory, ed. Mieke Bleyen. Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2012, 125-144.

Seduction by ellipsis

Claude Sautet’s Classe Tous Risques is an odd little growing pain of a film. It is fascinating to watch the way that the cinematography and story negotiate (sometimes clumsily) between the stolid camera of 1950s French cinéma de qualité and the energetic errors and innovations of the New Wave.

Lino Ventura as an anguished head gangster cum family man and his tragic end is one half of this schizophrenic story–the poetic realism half, gloomy and moralistic and softly beautiful. The other half is Jean-Paul Belmondo as a free agent thief, guileless and unperturbed, with an excellent left uppercut to keep him out of trouble.

The film was in theaters at the same time as Breathless, and was of course immediately drowned out by the attention given to Godard’s feature length debut. I love the idea of doppelgänger Belmondos on the screens of Parisian movie houses–one telling his audience to go screw themselves if they don’t like the countryside, one trying out a heavy-handed pick up line only to shyly add, “…that is, if you’re interested.”

What unites the films is the way that elliptical editing becomes synonymous for a postwar social informality, a social intimacy, a social shorthand. Sequences from Classe Tous Risques in conjunction with one from Breathless will now become my go-to example for the filmic device and its New Wave before, in transition and after.

<3 Art Thoughtz

Hennessy Youngman (well, a PG-13 version thereof) will definitely be incorporated into my Art and Theory Since 1960 next school year. Good to know Electric Arts Intermix agrees that he’s an institution of artistic art pedagogy. His female gaze video went for the easy (and frankly lame) joke–“girl eyes” gotta have it–something the best of his videos don’t do. But teachers make mistakes, too. Most of this stuff is wickedly clever and multi-layered! The below videos are nsfw (cultural work notwithstanding).


Bruce Nauman did this. Bruce Nauman did that. Bruce Nauman saved the planet from a motherf*cking astroid.

Poststructuralism really gotta know which good ol days you talkin about.

Beuys-Z!