Reprise

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, 1937. Gelatin silver print. 13.3 x 12.4 cm.

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, 1937. Gelatin silver print. 13.3 x 12.4 cm.

A Lee Miller photograph as an overture to sporadic summertime posting!

Miller made this photograph while visiting the Siwa Oasis in Egypt. She took it from inside an abandoned bungalow belonging to traveling officials.

On the recently established website dedicated to her archives, you can see the original snapshot from which she cropped and enlarged this image. The archive is fascinating to click through, even if the images are irritatingly (if self-explanatorily) watermarked for viewing unpleasure.

Miller described the rectangle sewn into the screen as what would have earlier been an opening used to “reach through the mosquito netting to latch or unlatch the sand storm shutters” (in Mark Haworth-Booth, The Art of Lee Miller, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 133).

By the time she entered the bungalow, this original opening had been made accessory to the beautiful rent beneath it. Space’s portrait is only ever its frame.

Watching “The Clock”

Christian Marclay, THE CLOCK, 2010. Image accessed at http://www.torontolife.com/daily/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/sept12TheArgument.jpg

At SCMS ’13 in Chicago this weekend, I noticed a panel entirely devoted to Christian Marclay’s 24-hour, single channel computer program, The Clock. The artwork is a massive compilation of sequences from film history which feature time-keeping and time-breaking: clocks, watches, alarms, bombs and digitized displays as silent witnesses and narrative fulcrums. I missed the panel, as one is forced to do at a conference as massive as SCMS, but I thought I’d use it as an impetus to write some thoughts on the artwork that I had had earlier this year.

I read the glowing portrait of Marclay and the project that Daniel Zalewski had painted in a 2012 issue of the New Yorker, and (contrarian by nature), immediately knew I had to see it for myself. I did so during its run at the MoMA (December 21, 2012–January 21, 2013). I chose the worst possible time: at closing on a Target Free Friday Night. Stomach growling, wait time estimated at one hour, my partner and I shrugged at each other. At least we were getting the full experience.

After a faithfully estimated hour of chit chat and eavesdropping on the decreasingly interesting chit chat of surrounding art goers, we entered the darkened gallery space. By the light of the screen, I saw (much to my loathing and delight) that the vast space was ordered with rows of IKEA KLIPPAN sofas. Is there a better candidate for a penultimate Benjaminian dialectical image/object of the early years of the 21st century?

I thought it was interesting that from its installation concept, Marclay’s Clock seems to place itself more in a history of TV viewing than movie-going (the relatively small size and low placement of the screen, the unraked floor, cushy seating). Several spectators were sprawled out on their backs or stomachs like children in front of a giant set. We sat on the floor in the crowded makeshift theater for about ten minutes, then finally a sofa freed up.

As I had expected, I didn’t like the piece, but I found it fascinating. For a film and media studies scholar (especially one trained in a more conservative fashion) the cinephiliac mode of trying to identify each sequence used was taxing. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t a qualifying exam. As I let myself slide along the endless montage of graphic matches, I started mentally playing with common themes and parallels from minute to minute. We were there from about 9pm to 10:45pm, long after nuclear family dinnertime and too soon for the 2am phone calls with bad news. During this stretch of Movieland night, three principle activities take place: 1.) bodies are discovered. 2.) women get stood up for dates. 3.) people don’t come home, and whomever is expecting them paces nervously.

In this segment of The Clock, Marclay’s army of young, vision-ruined assistants were using overwhelmingly English-language, Hollywood, genre-based films as their raw material. That was disappointing–I would have liked a little armchair tourism with my time travel. Perhaps, I thought, there is something about Anglophone culture (capitalist industrialization its hallmark) that makes its cinema rely more heavily than others on codified and disciplined segments of day for narrative meaning. Productivity, efficiency, quota fulfillment, happy ending!

After an hour, I was restless. For me, the sensation of watching The Clock was one of enervation. I felt mildly depressed at the virtual drain on my nightlife. My partner, however, didn’t want to leave. In fact, relatively few people seemed to leave during the our stay–everyone seemed absorbed, transfixed. By what?, I wondered. Perhaps they, like us, wanted to watch at least as long as they had waited to watch? Of The Clock, Rosalind Krauss writes that Marclay turns to “suspense as the extended dilation of [Hüsserl’s] ‘now effect,’ transforming the reel time of film into the real time of waiting.” (Krauss, “Clock Time,” October 136, Spring 2011, pp. 213–217.) While it makes for a nice pun, I disagree with Krauss–I don’t think The Clock is about the filmic, unless its about film’s afterlife. To me, the piece diffuses suspense and is instead about an ecstatic seriality, endless citation. It is about the soothing pleasure of the familiar unfamiliar. About knowing what will happen next but not knowing how, exactly.

The most rewarding thing about the experience was the walk to get dinner afterward. All of a sudden, every idle gesture of looking at clocks in building facades or at our wrist watches or cell phones had become overdetermined. Like a dramatic kiss or a particularly good insult hurled, the glance at the time was now cinematic for us, part of a catalogue of experience for which moving images condition us. We had never noticed before.

Freud’s “House Beautiful”

Some scans of Sigmund Freud’s home and psychoanalytic practice at Berggasse 19, from the book The Surreal House (ed. Jane Alison, Yale, 2010).

The first two are photographs from the famous series that Edmund Engelman made just before Freud had to flee Vienna in 1938. Of particular interest to me, amidst the mixed statuettes from China, Greece, and Egypt, is the mirror hung from the crossframe of Freud’s window. The id juxtaposed with the ego?

After that are selections from a series of velvety graphite and charcoal drawings of Engelman’s photographs by Robert Longo. The last two are outside of the interior. They are meant to be displayed as a diptych. Longo’s drawings uncannily translate the photographs (indexes of Freud’s psychoanalytic practice) back to the work of the hand, perhaps the metonymic subject of psychoanalysis itself.

I imagine Freud will soon be the focus of another round of scholarly inquiry (perhaps artistic inquiry, too). It seems that there are many more opportunities for turning his schemas and theories on their head in the way that feminist scholarship did in the 1980s and 1990s, aided in part by translations and compilations like Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s Freud on Women

Sigmund Freud's apartment, Berggasse 19, Vienna, View of the writing desk in the study, 1938. Edmund Engelman. Photograph.

Sigmund Freud’s apartment, Berggasse 19, Vienna, View of the writing desk in the study, 1938. Edmund Engelman. Photograph.

Sigmund Freud's apartment, Berggasse 19, Vienna, View of the study, 1938. Edmund Engelman. Photograph.

Sigmund Freud’s apartment, Berggasse 19, Vienna, View of the study, 1938. Edmund Engelman. Photograph.

Untitled (Viennese porcelain stove (stretched), consulting room, 1938), Robert Longo, 2000. Graphite and charcol on mounted paper. 274 x 86 cm.

Untitled (Viennese porcelain stove (stretched), consulting room, 1938), Robert Longo, 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Untitled (open door, consulting room to study, 1938). Robert Longo. 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Untitled (open door, consulting room to study, 1938). Robert Longo. 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Untitled (Diptych--Exterior Apartment Door with Nameplate and Peephole, 1938). Robert Longo. 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Untitled (Diptych–Exterior Apartment Door with Nameplate and Peephole, 1938). Robert Longo. 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Untitled (Diptych--Exterior Apartment Door with Nameplate and Peephole, 1938). Robert Longo. 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Untitled (Diptych–Exterior Apartment Door with Nameplate and Peephole, 1938). Robert Longo. 2000. Graphite and charcoal on mounted paper.

Paris belongs to us

A tantalizing little sequence of above-it-all from René Clair’s Paris qui dort / The Crazy Ray (1923). Entire film here. Lucky enough to have escaped the “crazy ray” of a conniving scientist who has frozen le tout Paris, the caretaker of the Eiffel Tower, four fashionable airplane passengers and their pilot cavort happily in the Trocadéro fountain and light each other’s cigarettes whilst hanging from the tower’s iron lattice. What power and liberty in the view from above, which endlessly fixes, distances and aestheticizes.

Poetry from the trenches

Going to MoMA’s current exhibition, “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925” was like a French New Year’s feast with a boggled mind afterward instead of a groaning belly: there was fois gras. There were oysters. Champagne, white wine, red wine, digestif. Lobster, roast, and quail. And of course, the moelleux.

Discoveries for me were:

Josef Albers’ Gitterbild (1921), a droll and clever teaching tool that transformed wire and industrial glass samples into a modernist study of color resonance and texture,

a whole wall of Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist compositions–abstract portraits, landscapes and still lifes,

a 1979 reconstructed model of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920), which sat ambitiously and quite uneasily in the gallery, surrounded by other Constructivist masterworks

and

Suzanne Duchamp’s Solitude entonnoir (1921), which entered into melancholy conversation with all of the grinders and rotaries and mills in the work of brother Marcel (dutifully represented in painting, sculpture and cinema).

The most extraordinary, however, was an extremely rare copy of Guillame Apollinaire’s Case d’Armons (1915). Apollinaire published the (I believe) hand-bound booklet of 21 poems on graph paper with the help of two sergeant friends from the trenches during the First World War. The booklet sat in a vitrine, covered by a velvet powder blue cloth. Visitors approached and lifted the cloth, perhaps expecting to see something illicit, and were met with the incredible fragility and power of aesthetics amidst war.

I choose my vehicle and I can cross all bridges

Happy 2013!

An apt beginning to the beginning of the new year: the first few minutes of Kidlat Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare (1977).

This sequence is an earnest but wry account of the great determination needed and the great labor involved in taking leave of colonialist oppression, cultural constraints, parochial censure, social prejudices and stigmas, and not least of all, the isolating security of the familiar. Meanwhile, Tahimik notes, established powers and their followers parade across the thoroughfare. The bridge is mediation, says Fredric Jameson in The Geopolitical Aesthetic (1992). The bridge is our bridge of life, says Tahimik.

May we make all crossings–metaphorical and real, difficult and effortless–with Tahimik’s brashness, tempered in equal measure with humor and critical skepticism. We choose our vehicles and we can cross this, any, all bridges!

Elizabeth Price wins the Turner

Still from “The Woolworths Choir of 1979,” Elizabeth Price, 2012. Image accessed at http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/944×531/p012dcm7.jpg

Great to see that a video artist has been awarded the Turner Prize: Elizabeth Price. This small snippet of her piece, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 (2012) intrigues me. I’d love to see it in its entirety as an installation.

It’s difficult to know anything about the composition from what little can be seen online, but it speaks well of the piece that I’m immediately inspired to start piecing together and thinking over a couple recurring thematic motifs: the legibility/illegibility of emotive gesture and the commodification of femininity (in terms of news reportage of the tragedy, but also the erotics of girl groups). I imagine the snaps and clicks that seem to regulate the images as the sounds of these concepts locking and interlocking.

I’m also happy to see an artist who has been given this kind of platform valorize public art funding and stress the importance of keeping complex visual experience open to as wide an audience as possible.

The art of aural feedback

Two images to admire as extensions of the sound artwork of Max Neuhaus (1939-2009):

Max Neuhaus, poster for PUBLIC SUPPLY I, 1966

In Public Supply I, Neuhaus “combined a radio station with the telephone network and created a two-way public aural space twenty miles in diameter encompassing New York City, where any inhabitant could join a live dialogue with sound by making a phone call.”

Listen here to an audio file of the artwork.

Max Neuhaus, LISTEN, poster with photograph of Brooklyn Bridge from South Street, New York City, 1976

This poster was one of a series of artworks Neuhaus made on the concept of aural attention in various media between 1966 and 1978.

Of the poster above, Neuhaus wrote,

I organized ‘field-trips’ to places which were generally inaccessible and had sounds which could never be captured on a recording. I also did some versions as publications. One of these was a poster with a view looking up from under the Brooklyn Bridge, with the word LISTEN stamped in large letters on the underside of the bridge. It came from a long fascination of mine with sounds of traffic moving across that bridge – the rich sound texture formed from hundreds of tires rolling over the open grating of the roadbed, each with a different speed and tread.

“The inner chronicle of what we are”

This clip is from the end of the documentary, Burden of Dreams (Les Blank and Maureen Gosling, 1982). In it, Werner Herzog tries to answer why art is so vital and so absurd, and what kind of sheer artist hubris is necessary to say so. In his face and his falsely casual body language, we see his pride and slight embarrassment mingle.

Herzog’s testament to art is echoed in Bernard Stiegler’s “The Tongue of the Eye: What “Art History” Means,” which I recently read in the very good Releasing the Image: From Literature to New Media (edited by Jacques Khalip and Robert MItchell, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011).
Stiegler writes,
To paint, to write (music, literature), to perform (music, theater), to stage and to install, is to take care of oneself–and consequently of others, and of the realm of others. The practices constituing this care, and that give acces to noetic organs (including the memory and brain that connect them), have been destroyed by the proletarization of the consumer subjected to the automatisms of a de-sublimated unconscious. This tends to make us return en masse–and as audiences–to the prenoetic, losing the ability to look [savoir regarder], trans-individuated by the ability to do [savoir-faire] and the ability to live [savoir-vivre] transmitted to us by painting and, broadly, by culture. For the culture industries and the psycho-technologies that they develop destroy the organological circuits supporting the processes of transindividuation (229).