December 16, 2009
Throughout this decade which is rapidly approaching its end, we've become accustomed to a proliferation of stories about the demise of cinema in this brave new digital world. I have previously offered a critique of this "mortality narrative," as I called it (for reference, see my article "'No One Goes To the Movies Anymore:' Cinema and Visual Studies in the Digital Era," in Kinema 30, 2008), partially on the grounds that film as a medium cannot be reduced to a question of location/space of exhibition, nor to one of materiality/technology. Film is also a conceptual and institutional entity, and what Gertrud Koch and others have referred to as the "cinematic dispositif" seems far more essential to film than does celluloid. As for the diversification of the contexts of film viewing, films now migrate not only to the flat screens of suburbia and to iPhones but also to the art gallery, a movement perhaps somewhat less heralded than that of the digitalization of cinema. In the latest issue of Screen, however - and this was really the point of this entry - there is an excellent new article by Erika Balsom that focuses on this issue, "A cinema in the gallery, a cinema in ruins." In the 90's, Balsom writes, "film and video [became] increasingly central to contemporary art practice, moving into the gallery to change both the cinema and the art world" (Screen 50:4, 411). -A.G.
December 10, 2009
A Receptable for the Projection of Hope,
a Frustrated Desire for Peace
Downtown Oslo seems to be in a frenzy with the arrival of President Barack Obama, this year’s controversial recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Will he stop by for decaf cappuccino and a nice chat at Pascal in Drammensveien, as did Bill Clinton some ten years ago in 1999? Norwegian broadcasting tirelessly keeps the nation updated by the minute, as do the web pages of national newspapers with their paparazzi competing for the defining image of the event.
The Journal of Visual Culture has a special issue out with a questionnaire on Obama. There W.J.T. Mitchell holds that ”it is important to recognize the extent to which his image is, before any positive content of, say, visible racial marking, a highly ambigious blank slate on which popular fantasy could be projected. Obama noted this himself in numerous speeches, calling himself a receptable for the projecion of hope and instisting that his metoeric rise was ’not about me, but about you’. He made himself a mirror for an international community of frustrated desire for peace, hope and change.” –Ø.V.
November 30, 2009
"Mimesis of the Precarious"
There is one word particularly descriptive of the condition of the art produced in the decade that is soon behind us, Hal Foster writes in the current issue of Artforum, and that word is "precarious." What the last ten years perhaps have shown us, is that "our political bond... is always more tenuous than we think" (207). It is this sense of "heightened insecurity" that much contemporary art has attempted to engage (ibid.). There is no shortage of events and phenomena to suggest this precariousness, or instability: the stolen American election of 2000, 9/11, the deceptions surrounding the invasion of Iraq, Abu Graib, Guantánamo Bay, Hurricane Katrina, the US health-care crisis, the environmental crisis, the financial crisis. In the art of the last decade Foster detects an impulse not so much to give form to this sense of escalating political confusion and social instability as to generate what he calls a "mimesis of the precarious" (208). This impulse often manifests itself in the form of performative installations such as Jon Kessler's The Palace at 4 AM (2005, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York) and Mark Walinger's State Britain (2007, Tate Britain). The concept of the precarious already seems to have a certain resonance in the intellectual life of the past decade; one is reminded, for instance, of Judith Butler's text on Levinas from 2004 entitled "Precarious Life." Foster himself says that he came to the term via Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn and his Musée Précaire Albinet project (2004). -A.G.
November 5, 2009
The local filmfest (The Bergen International Film Festival), which ended last Wednesday, marked its tenth anniversary this year, and as usual its eclectic and sometimes too transparently topical programming contained quite a few treasures, some pleasurable surprises, an unmitigated fiasco and maybe even one masterpiece. I already got to see Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon at another film festival in the summer, so I won’t delve into it here (though I will surely write about it elsewhere), but other films worth mentioning are Darbareye Elly, by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, an almost impossibly tense and superbly acted family drama with quite a disturbing mood change; Burrowing, the debut feature by Henrik Hellström and Fredrik Wenzel, a rather verdant and introspective lyrical film that for me was suggestive of Thoreau, Vesaas and Haromony Korine, all at the same time; Elia Suleiman’s laconically elegiac The Time That Remains; and RiP: A Remix Manifesto, Brett Gaylor’s hugely entertaining activist polemic (whose original title was actually The Basement Tapes) against copyright culture. But best of all was Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking, whose subtlety in observing familial and cross-generational interaction was simply astounding. A film of gestures and gaps, it reminded me a little of Edward Yang and Ozu.
Oh, and yes, the fiasco previously alluded to was Sophie Barthes’s inexplicably dull sci-fi comedy Cold Souls.
Last week I also visited the Centre Pompidou to see the exhibition La Subversion des Images, a comprehensive cartography of Surrealist art and its many cross-aesthetic permutations. Featuring artists such as Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, Germaine Dulac, Dora Maar, Raoul Ubac and, obviously, André Breton, the show focuses on nine different thematic sections: collective action; silent drama; the real, the fortuitous, the marvellous; the art of juxtaposition; the scopic drive; the interior model; automatic writings; anatomy of the image; and surrealism put to use. Conceptually grounded in the maxim that ways of seeing orchestrate ways of being, La Subversion des Images portrays Surrealism as a set of interrelated practices that had a transformative impact on visual culture and its systems of representation. The exhibition is on view until January 11, 2010. – A.G.
October 21, 2009
Music as Images
A few days ago, Øyvind wrote about our visit to the Met to see Robert Frank’s The Americans. We also went to the MOMA that week, where I was lucky enough to catch the eminently transmedial Looking at Music: Side 2 exhibition, which comprises record covers, posters, zines, music videos, super-8 films, drawings and photographs (and which also features an accompanying programme of films including Bette Gordon’s Variety and James Nares’s Rome 78). As the co-editor of a forthcoming book about album cover aesthetics, I could easily identify with the premise of this project. There is obviously a compelling visual dimension to recorded music, although in an era in which people value compression above all (as Godard might have put it) this particular visual sense seems to be increasingly underappreciated, or even ignored. Not so in the heyday of the pulsating New York art and music scene of the 1970s and early 1980s, where the boundaries between music, poetry and the various visual media collapsed in spurts of interdisciplinary imagination and DIY fervor. The experimental energy of this interartistic moment shared an apparent affinity with the punk rock and no wave movements, as was evidenced by the exhibition’s focus on the work of luminaries such as The Ramones, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Suicide, Blondie, Talking Heads and Sonic Youth. While walking through the displays you could stop to examine prominent record covers, put on the ubiquitous headsets and listen to a song or two. There was the Kim Gordon-designed cover for Confusion is Sex - Sonic Youth’s album debut and the first record to come out on Glenn Branca’s Neutral Records back in 1983 - video footage from Max’s Kansas City shot by Bob Gruen, photographs by Nan Goldin, drawings by Patti Smith and prints by Jenny Holzer. What these images seem to convey above all is how integral different forms of visual art were to the conception of this scene’s overall aesthetics. The exhibition is on view through November 30. And no, I couldn’t resist picking up a vinyl copy of Blank Generation when I was rummaging through the bins on Bleecker St. a couple of days later. -A.G.
October 18, 2009
Three stimulating days of presentations and discussions here at the International Comic Arts Forum conference at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago have just come to an end. A multifaceted group of scholars have gathered daily in the stately SAIC ballroom to discuss, to list a few of the topics: aesthetics and comics autobiography, comics and aesthetic evaluation, and the possible futures and disciplinary configurations of comics studies.
My own presentation was on Joe Sacco’s fourth issue of the Palestine series (more specifically on the story ”Moderate Pressure, Part Two”) and on ”Trauma on Loan,” a 2006 reportage. I had the pleasure to present in an excellent panel on comics and ethics: Bruce Dadey talked about Sacco as well, in a presentation that borrowed its title from Sontag’s 2003 book (”Drawing the Suffering of Others: Joe Sacco and the Ethics of Graphic Representation”) and addressed several of the reflections therein from a comics perspective. As it turned out Bruce and I have read many of the same books (among them is Beautiful Suffering, which contains essays by Nomadikon-keynotes Mieke Bal and Mark Reinhardt, references we shared in our presentations). Bruce’s sharp reading of ”Christmas with Karadzic” circled in on the relationship between Sacco’s comics persona and his role as an observer and a comics reporter. The third representation was on Guy Deslisle, whose books I’ve just recently (finally) read – Candida Rifkind addressed Deslisle’s depictions of ethnical and cultural differences in his travelogues. One of the several interesting questions addressed in the discussion after our presentations was the ethical problems involved in the representation of the face of the Other.
In my own presentation, which I’m currently developing into a journal article, I’m inspired by Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain and interested in how Sacco tries to come to terms with a problematic that for many reasons is particularly pressing in contemporary visual culture, namely the political and perceptual implications of what Scarry calls ”the inexpressibility of physical pain.” I know of a few readings of the Palestine story but none that have addressed its aesthetics from this perspective. Scarry’s book raises the question ”whether physical pain is easier to represent visually than to articulate verbally,” Mieke Bal writes in her essay in Beautiful Suffering. Bal herself suggests that ”[r]eversing the perspective and siding with the sufferer is necessary ethically but also intellectually if we are to further our insight on this question,” and, furthermore, that a word/image relationship is uniquely able to visualize ”the tension between the invisibility of pain and the need to ’speak.’” The two stories I discuss in my paper really explore this tension brilliantly.
As it happens, these grisly problems have been with me on my whole trip to the U.S., so I’ve had plenty of time to think about them a lot in the days before I arrived here in Chicago. In New York City Asbjørn and I went to a reading at the Cooper Union, ”Reckoning with Torture,” where a group of writers (including Amrit Singh, Susanna Moore, Don DeLillo, Art Spiegelman, George Saunders, and Paul Auster) read from memos and testimonies from the War on Terror. Behind them imagery incorporating U.S. government documents (made by artist Jenny Holzer) was projected on three screens. These presentations drew on a visual-verbal tension in their own right; in particular I found the dialogues very unsettling in their juxtaposition of extremely disturbing testimony and absurd legalistic euphemisms that seemed to be taken straight out of Kafka. Then, on my flight into Chicago, I read Andrew Sullivan’s intense and devastating letter to George W. Bush in the Atlantic Monthly, where he begs him to come forward and ”do what’s needed” in order to ”remove the stain.” What the next years will bring is anybody’s guess, but right now any reckoning with these past and ongoing events seems disconcertingly unimaginable. –Ø.V.
October 15, 2009
Picture by Picture
The picture Asbjørn is looking at here is Political Rally – Chicago, 1956, one of the photographs in Robert Frank’s The Americans. During these last few days three out of four members of the Nomadikon research group have spent some time in New York City, and all of us have visited the Frank exhibition at the Met where the photographs that constitute The Americans are currently exhibited. Looking In celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. publication of the book in 1959, and the gallery walk inspired spirited reflections among us – not only on the amazing photographs themselves, but also on the captions that accompanied them. Were they not saying enough, or were they in fact saying too much?
Frank’s signature ”ultimately escapes whatever social messages he might drape over it,” Greil Marcus wrote in ArtForum in November 1994, and suggested that ”what might be the essence of Frank’s palavers with the world, whether in photography or movies” was ”a bet that the whole of life can be found almost anywhere. In The Americans, that bet pays off not for the book as a whole but picture by picture. The book itself can be summed up and, even, beaten; you can win an argument with it. I cannot win an argument with a single one of the pictures as such.”
Few pictures have been surrounded by more words than these, and with Sarah Greenough’s insightful essays in the new exhibition catalogue there is now more to be read. Critics were hostile to The Americans when it was first published ”because of the informality of the frame,” Philip Gefter writes in one of the pieces in his new Photography After Frank, ”but photographers followed Frank’s lead and began to exploit the camera’s ability to record and describe (f)actual reality not only as evidence of what exists, but also in expression of their own experience.”
The exhibition at the Met is certainly a testament to Frank’s immense influence, to the impact of what Gefter calls his liberation of the photographic image ”from the compositional tidiness and emotional distance of his predecessors.” It is difficult to think of a better way to spend an afternoon. –Ø.V.
October 15, 2009
Last Thursday and Friday, W.J.T. Mitchell visited the Humanities Center at Syracuse University in New York to give a lecture and seminar focusing on the relationship between law, migration and iconology. Mitchell, a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago and a Nomadikon affiliate, explored the concept of migration and extended it to compare the movement of images and bodies across national and cultural borders. Addressing the fraught relation between the law and the image, the lecture probed the paradox of inclusion and exclusion in liberal political theory, calling attention to the ways that its universalistic principle of equality reaches its limits at the territorial borders of the nation state. While the border is a space where the fantasy of national unity is screened and where bodies of immigrants can be stopped and held in detention, the image can’t be quarantined. Mitchell noted how images penetrate walls and borders, and can be a catalyst for bringing them down.
The following day’s seminar delved further into the methodological implications of Mitchell’s proposal that we should think of images as life forms rather than objects. Conferring this new identity to the image also suggests new paths to tread; tracing the origin, evolution and extinction of visual species and mapping the habitats where they reside and interact. The organic analogy initiates an additional set of metaphors about intrusion, transgression and contamination, and of images as virus, parasites and bacteria. Challenging the notion of the image as a self-contained and autonomous entity, the seminar participants discussed the kind of methods suggested by the animist metaphor, and what it means to ask what images want, need and desire. This raises another question: how far can this metaphor be pushed before it reaches its own conceptual border? -H.G.
October 14, 2009
Yesterday we sat down with Michael Ann Holly in a Manhattan diner to talk about disciplinarity, the state of visual culture studies and some of the issues raised in the book she recently co-edited with Marquard Smith, What is Research in the Visual Arts? (mentioned in several previous field reports). The interview is intended for our journal under construction, Ekfrase. -A.G.
September 25, 2009
Charles Hatfield recently posted a thoughtful manifesto - The state of Comics Studies, and what to do about it - on the Thought Balloonists blog. It has generated an interesting and important discussion which I'm sure will continue at the upcoming International Comic Arts Forum Conference at the Arts Institute in Chicago, where I'm going to attend and give a paper on Joe Sacco. Here's a quote from the blog post:
"Since comics studies cannot be a narrowly circumscribed discipline in the traditional sense, it has to make up for this lack of cohesion by being intentional about how it accommodates and takes advantage of its multidisciplinary nature. So it’s time we held dialogues about our differing disciplinary methods and expectations. There are crucial differences between, say, an art historian studying the development of caricature and a literary critic studying contemporary comic books under the aegis of postmodernism. There are differences between a journalism scholar studying the impact of political cartooning and a cultural studies scholar studying the relationship between anime and manga. There are differences between those studying comics as artists’ books and those studying comics as mass production. These differences don’t mean that we cannot all belong to the same field, but they do mean that we are sometimes talking at cross-purposes without realizing it. If we are to bring together different disciplines, it would behoove us to do this in a conscious way: by analyzing our differences, by forming discussion groups or caucuses at conferences, and by undertaking collaborative projects across disciplinary lines. Such intentional collaboration is, I believe, the best way to achieve coherence in a field that, by nature, will never honestly fit into one pigeonhole." -Ø.V.
September 21, 2009
Just published is the latest issue of New Review of Film and Television Studies, which is on "the synaesthetic turn." In their introduction, Tarja Laine and Wanda Strauven write that "the present day seems to ‘turn away’ from the image, or rather to ‘turn aside’ from the image as objectively readable text to the image as subjectively and bodily experiential event. Within the context of synaesthetic reasoning, visual perception is dictated by our embodied vision: we see (the world, the image, the ?lm) fully aware of our bodies and senses by virtue of their being within our perceptual ?eld" (250). Among the articles featured is a contribution by Nomadikon speaker Eivind Røssaak, "Affects and medium: re-imagining media differences through Bill Viola's The Quintet of the Astonished." -A.G.
September 18, 2009
We have invited Douglas Kellner to give a lecture at our department, and this event takes places on Tuesday September 22. The title of his lecture is "Media Spectacle from 9/11 to the 2008 US Presidential Election and the Obama Era: Some Critical Reflections." Kellner is George Kneller Chair in the Philosophy of Education at UCLA. -A.G.
September 16, 2009
Another exciting event here in Bergen: tomorrow the Bergen Biennial Conference begins. Go to www.bbc2009.no for the full program, with sessions focusing on the history and origins of biennials and other perennial international exhibitions, on practice and how biennials function and develop over time, on the biennial as art institution, and on the relevance of perennial exhibitions. The site also has a live stream from the conference. -Ø.V.
August 29, 2009
If you're in Bergen next Friday (September 4) afternoon, don't miss two very interesting lectures, both at the Student Centre: Elizabeth Edwards, "Bursts of Presence: Photographs and the Performance of History" (at 17:00) and Steve Edwards, "Photography and Property Then and Now" (at 18:00). -Ø.V.
August 18, 2009
Nomadikon is very happy to announce the arrival of a new colleague. Henrik Gustafsson has now joined our group as a postdoctoral fellow. He has a doctorate in cinema studies from Stockholm University. -A.G.
August 13, 2009
Just published is an article I wrote a few years ago on Pat O'Neill's experimental film The Decay of Fiction, which is about the now demolished Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The article is called "The Decay of Fiction and the Poetics of Pastness" and is part of the anthology Moving Pictures/Stopping Places: Hotels and Motels on Film, which is edited by David B. Clarke, Valerie Crawford Pfannhauser and Marcus A. Doel. -A.G.
July 3, 2009
The second Nomadikon meeting took place over the weekend of June 19-21 at the Student Center, University of Bergen. Its theme was "Images of Pain/Painful Images" (the programme can be found elsewhere on this website), which attracted a richly eclectic yet at the same time wonderfully unified selection of papers and talks. Above are a few pictures of the event. From top to bottom: Jon-Ove Steihaug enjoying a cup of coffee; Saturday night keynote speaker Mark Reinhardt (standing), Mattias Frey and Tonje Sørensen; Øyvind Vågnes and Mieke Bal during the latter's Friday night keynote. Thanks to Mark Reinhardt for sending us the photos. -A.G.
May 26, 2009
This year's Palme d' Or went to Michael Haneke for his new film The White Ribbon, according to reports yet another astute examination of the nature of violence. There is also a new book out on the Austrian director, Michael Haneke's Cinema: The Ethic of the Image (Berghahn Books 2009), written by regular Sight and Sound contributor Catherine Wheatley. I haven't read it yet, but it will certainly be on my desk once I get back from my paternity leave. -A.G.
May 19, 2009
At the time of writing, some of us should have been on a Tokyo-bound plane to take part in the annual Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference. However, last week the sad news arrived that the event has been cancelled due to local concerns over the H1N1 virus. We were supposed to have been on the D7 panel, on Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure, which consisted of the following participants and papers:
* Asbjørn Grønstad (University of Bergen), "Standard Operating Procedure and the Ecology of the Image"
* Øyvind Vågnes (University of Bergen), "Picturing Poses: The Reenactments of Standard Operating Procedure"
* Tara Milbrandt (University of Alberta, Augustana), "Telling Images in Standard Operating Procedure"
* Arild Fetveit (University of Copenhagen), "The Power of Photography and the Material Aesthetics of Standard Operating Procedure"
All of these presenters will give papers (although in different panel constellations) at the upcoming Nomadikon meeting in Bergen next month. -A.G.
April 29, 2009
Mieke Bal and the Circus of Thought (2)
Here’s a brief and fresh excerpt from the transcript of my interview with Mieke Bal (see post of April 28), in which she talks about a number of things, including the rather unusual invitation from a flower merchant (!) who has come up with the idea of a Circus of Thought.
ØV: Tropes of movement and restlessness seem to be very important to you. Could you perhaps say a few words about the correspondence between what seems to me a consistent if not neatly organized tropology and the facts of your career, that is your own disciplinary journeys? Does a shifting conception of movement, of travel, represent some sort of antidote to intellectual stagnation in your work, do you think?
MB: I guess that’s my Deleuzian side, the movement. But before the Deleuzian became fashionable I was already into this. You could say the movement is an ”antidote to intellectual stagnation,” but it’s also a more realistic view of art and literature and the world, you know. Nothing’s stable. Migratory aesthetics is a good instance of what I’m talking about here, because migration is a situation of the world. If you want to be adequate to the world, I’m not saying to get a depiction of it, but to be adequate to the world, to be responsive to the world, we have to go with the movement. We have to acknowledge that movement is the normal state of things. People that stay in the same place are not necessarily without movement, and if they are, too bad for them. So yeah, there is a connection, I think it is impossible to avoid movement. I have been in other countries but I’ve always been a Dutch citizen. I was born and bred here, I will die here. But the world itself compels me to move, also in terms of disciplines. The disciplines, you know, are so arbitrarily delimited, that I’m actually struggling ... I’m just finalizing a book, on a visual artist, and I’m struggling to not infuse it with literary concepts because the work itself lends itself so much to it that every once in a while I have to stop and say, ”No, no, no,” because then people think I’m a linguist imperior! The artist is Doris Salcedo, Colombian sculptor. Her work is fantastic, I’m going to talk about it at your conference [Images of Pain/Painful Images, the Second Nomadikon Meeting].
I’m going to tell you a secret. Last night I had a man here who is the director of something that is called ”The Circus of Thought.” Like a circus with clowns and athletes and all that, acrobats. But then with thought. And this man has invented the idea of organizing a circus of thought and he asked me to do an act.
MB: Is that funny or not? But the great thing is it’s actually fantastic and I think it’s going to be terrific. Although I said, ”I don’t do acts you know.” I draw the line somewhere! Ok, I make films, I fall for the making of things, but an act in a circus, are you kidding?
He talked me into it in five minutes.
ØV: So you’re going to perform in this circus?
MB: No, he said, ”I want you to tell a story.” And so I wrote a story, and I have a young child, well, not a child, a teenager, performing it. So I’m not going into the trapeze or anything.
But the reason I’m telling you this is that this man applied for some award for an original idea to combine business and art. Now what is the least original idea is to create a web site bringing business and art together. That’s done. So he came up with this idea and had a lot of businesses interested but he did not win any award. The award went to – a guy who had created a web site to bring together businesses and art! I think this really has to do with that. It has to be recognizable. The web site is recognizable. This whole bullshit about ”original” – they don’t want original. They want recognizability, because otherwise there is this terror of judgment. How can they know if it’s good if it’s original?
And I have to acknowledge that I just simply acquired a status that I get away with it. That people now know that I’m serious, and that my work is serious, and so I can get away with things that other people might not get away with. –Ø.V.
April 28, 2009
Mieke Bal and the Circus of Thought (1)
A few days ago I brought a list of questions and got on the tram to Oud Zuid, where Mieke Bal generously welcomed me into her living room for an interview. Most of my research stay here in Amsterdam has been spent in solitude, in my apartment and in the many fine libraries here – it represented a welcome and (these days) unique chance to write without any kind of interruption. But as I walked up Beethovenstraat I found myself more than ready for conversation, for rubbing my thoughts up against those of someone else.
As it turned out, I got what I came for, and more. Not only did Bal answer all my lengthy questions with patience and careful thought. She was also kind enough to let me have a look at a few clips from her new film over a glass of wine. It was a splendid afternoon spent in good company.
The interview is one of two Asbjørn and I have done with Bal; we have collaborated on the questions, and each met her once for discussion. A conglomerate of these conversations will be published in the inaugural issue of the new journal Ekfrase: Nordisk Tidsskrift for Visuell Kultur in 2010. My talk with Bal took many directions, some of which were carefully planned and other quite unexpected, and that’s the way I imagine any interview should be. Among the topics I’d wanted to hear more about were, of course, her many books, her recent work as a filmmaker, her idea of a ”migratory aesthetics,” and more broadly, the very future of visual studies, as it were. But we also ended up talking about the role that chance and intuition sometimes can play when one goes about conducting one’s research, and the fact that I got a glimpse into her work in progress, a kind of adaptation of Francoise Davoine’s Mère Folle, was a special unexpected treat. You all have something exciting to look forward to – this work really sees Bal enter into new territory in her filmmaking.
My apartment in Amsterdam is right across from the Central Station, and I see trains arriving and departing all day and night, and constantly hear the screeching of train brakes. And so as I’ve been typing the transcript of my conversation with Bal, I’ve heard that sound every time I take off the earphones. At one point in the interview, Bal says: ”There is no world in which there is no migration. There has never been, by the way. It’s only we think that it’s recent. But this also creates the possibility of a European visual culture.” If you want to know more about Mieke Bal the circus artist, please watch out for a brief excerpt from the interview which will be posted in a couple of days. –Ø.V.
April 17, 2009
Do you want to watch Allen Ginsberg sing the blues? A snippet from Velvet Underground's first public performance at the Psychiatrists Convention in January 1966? The Fluxus group gliding up the Hudson River in the summer of 1971? Or avant-garde film classics such as Marcel Duchamp's Anaemic Cinema (1926) or Hans Richter's Ghosts Before Breakfast (1927-28)? Then you should visit www.jonasmekas.com, a brilliant website containing a cornucopia of films made by the eminent godfather of American experimental cinema and by film artists like Kenneth Anger and Jim Jarmusch. I particularly enjoyed Mekas's "manifesto/declaration of the eternal youth of the Cinema," a short filmed in his Broadway loft in 1996. -A.G.
April 15, 2009
Recently I visited the Fotografie Museum Amsterdam (www.foam.nl) to see their impressive Avedon retrospective (February 13 – May 13). For anyone who (like me) only really knows Avedon’s later work from magazines like the New Yorker, this is a welcome chance to take in the full range of his portraiture. All around me were young students, conspiring in whispered discussion and restlessly jotting in their notebooks for some assignment. The overall mood was joyous and life-affirming, there was a communal quality to the experience that I knew would define my memory of my encounter with the photographs. Two young girls photographed the blurry image of Louis Armstrong with their cell phones. A woman was visibly moved by Avedon’s photographs of his dying father.
After having seen the show I walked along Keizersgracht and over to the Mediamatic Bank (www.mediamatic.nl), on the other side of Vijzelstraat, only to find that they were closed that day. I was very disappointed as I’d wanted to see Elizabeth Heyert’s ”The Travelers,” which was exhibited in Mediamatic’s ”Ik R.I.P.” exhibition. However, after an unexpected turn of events, a kind soul opened the doors for me. And so I ended up walking through the gallery on my own, a luxury of sorts, and for an exhibition of this nature simply an unforgettable experience.
For ”The Travelers” Heyert (www.elizabethheyert.com) photographed the deceased members of a Baptist community in Harlem, New York. She took her pictures at a funeral parlor, after the families had taken their farewells, and so the corpses had been made ready for that final departure. Heyert prepared her portraits by learning about the life stories of her subjects, in order to convey their humanity in a dignifying way. Her undertaking thus differs dramatically and interestingly from Andres Serrano’s ”The Morgue” from the early nineties, a work that might be known to some readers. The thing that is immediately striking with Heyert’s pictures is the peacefulness of her necessarily unwitting objects, the smiles on their faces. There is a radiance to that stillness. As for story-telling, Heyert’s use of captions, which simply includes the name of the person in the portrait, and the date and place of birth and death, is thought-provoking. Just consider the portrait above. James Earl Jones, born in February 1982, dead in March 2003.
To anyone who gets the chance to see the Avedon exhibition, whether here in Amsterdam or elsewhere, it is highly recommended. So is Heyert’s ”The Travelers,” exhibition and book both (the exhibition at the Mediamatic Bank is now closed). The constellation Avedon/Heyert, though, belonged, at least to me, to that day, and it profoundly shaped my memories of seeing the pictures of both. –Ø.V.
April 14, 2009
Way back in the 1990s, The Auteurs was the name of a British rock band with a penchant for somewhat morbid themes. These days it is the home of Efe Cakarel's interactive website for cinephiles worldwide, "an online movie theater and gathering place for film lovers." A digital cinematheque as well as a social networking forum, the website might have the potential to become a marketable model for distributing films through the internet. What seems to distinguish Cakarel's initiative from similar ventures is the selectivity of the curating process, which puts the question of aesthetic merit first. With its unabashed appeal to what is perhaps a slightly nostalgic concept of cinephilia, this new website represents a bold, lateral move in our contemporary mediascape and is certainly a very welcome alternative venue for watching and discussing film art. -A.G.
April 7, 2009
Later this month, the MIT Press will publish the collected writings of Hollis Frampton, On the Camera Arts and Consecutive Matters, edited and with an introduction by Bruce Jenkins. Frampton, who died in 1984, left behind not only a vast corpus of film work but also a series of highly idiosyncratic theoretical essays on the visual media in which he worked, among which are his writings on photography produced for Artforum and October in the 1970s. Frampton's unconventional style comprises elements from many genres, mixing film theory with biography, autobiography, fiction, parody and the anecdotal (his prior aspiration was to become a poet; he was tutored by Ezra Pound, and James Joyce remained a significant influence). With this work, as some critics have recently pointed out, the filmmaker may gain renewed relevance through his adumbration of the current notion of postcinematic media. -A.G.
March 26, 2009
Next Sunday the Whitechapel will be reopening, and a couple of days ago director Iwona Blazwick appeared on BBC2’s Culture Show to talk about the gallery’s ambitious expansion. Among the new exhibitions is Goshka Macuga’s The Bloomberg Commission, which addresses not only the gallery’s own presentation of Picasso’s Guernica in 1938, but also the travels of this iconic image through contemporary visual culture, and its transforming role in staging political protest against war.
A life-size tapestry of Guernica created by the weaver Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach is at the centre of Macuga’s exhibition. It was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller and loaned to the UN in 1985, and has hung outside the Security Council Chamber in New York ever since, providing a backdrop for various press announcements. The Bloomberg Commission also includes a portrait of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Picasso’s Cubist style, by Macuga herself. The exhibition provides a form of commentary, then, to Powell’s press conference on February 5, 2003, about the cause for war against Iraq, when officials hung a blue curtain over Dürrbach’s tapestry. This draping of the tapestry received much press, but the background for it has been disputed. Whereas the press eagerly portrayed it as government censorship, several UN officials would come forth in the weeks that followed with claims that it was actually the cameramen who had complained that the backdrop did not work because of what they had referred to as the ”indecipherable shapes.”
Whoever made the decision, the event brought Picasso’s image back into civil protest. Copies of Guernica were carried to various demonstrations to great effect. The draping of the copy, Miriam Hansen wrote in Critical Inquiry, was ”yet another transposition of materials, from the artisanal medium of tapestry – via the double veils of cloth and flags – to television, photojournalism, and the internet. And this transposition is not simply additional or posterior to the others; the mise-en-scène of the press conference is the very condition of the cover-up.” In arguing for what she calls ”media aesthetics,” Hansen finds the event illustrative of a situation which ”eludes the perspective of strictly media theory, especially in its ontological and teleological bent” and calls for a ”reinvention of the aesthetic in the humanties.” Now exhibited in London, Dürrbach’s tapestry invites visitors not only to consider the infamous ”cover-up,” then, but also the implications of the fact that the event inspired an art exhibition, in the very gallery in which Picasso’s Guernica made its first and only visit to Britain. –Ø.V.
March 17, 2009
Two of the foremost institutions of Anglo-American film studies both celebrate their fiftieth anniversary this year: The Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the journal Screen. Is it fair to say, then, that the discipline of film studies is entering middle age? Screen's rather voluminous anniversary issue is out now and contains a roster of new exciting essays, divided into four thematic sections: spectatorship and looking, screen experience, after cinema, and screen cultures. -A.G.
March 16, 2009
This week I will be in Stockholm for the Transformations in Screen Culture seminar at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMK). As their Bonnier visiting professor in March, I'll be giving two talks, "The Death of Cinema and the Rise of Visual Culture Studies" (Wednesday) and "The Ethical Life of Images"(Thursday), the latter a work-in-progress project which considers the problem of cinema and ethics with reference to films by Michael Haneke, Errol Morris and Ari Folman. - A.G.
March 3, 2009
The first Nomadikon conference took place at the Terminus in Bergen on February 20-21. Here's a snapshot of keynote speaker Keith Moxey giving his splendid talk on "Bruegel's Opacity: Between Presence and Meaning." We in Nomadikon would like to thank everyone who participated for making this such a rewarding event. -A.G.
March 2, 2009
On Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, where Bob Dylan’s paintings are currently exhibited (until March 19). I should admit to being a longtime fan of the artist, and thus The Drawn Blank Series certainly represented a fascinating opportunity to reflect upon affinities and differences between Dylan’s output in music and in the visual arts. The works in the exhibition are all painted in 2007, and they are based on studies Dylan made while touring between 1989 and 1992. This gives them a certain diaristic quality, as they offer glimpses into life on the road. A friend who accompanied me observed how the paintings are rich in detail, as are many of Dylan’s lyrics. And yet, he pointed out, this seems exactly to be where the difference somehow lies as well. Andrew Graham-Dixon’s fine essay in the exhibition catalogue comments on this:
”The difference is that so many of the things that he draws and paints in The Drawn Blank Series have a singularly disenchanted aura about them, a feel of unresisting and unrewarding blankness. The bland sixties chest-of-drawers in Carbondale Motel and the switched-off television set – with its distinctive, old-fashioned, pot-bellied screen of thick glass – in the shuttered interior of Lakeside Cabin are just two examples. It is hard, although not entirely impossible, to imagine such objects being transmuted into the stuff of poetry or song. One of the paradoxes of Dylan’s art is that while it squarely addresses the world of everyday things and experiences it also speaks of reticence and even reclusiveness.” –Ø.V.
February 18, 2009
The anthology What is Research in the Visual Arts? has been mentioned in these pages previously (see Øyvind's post of December 1). A new installation by the Wilson Twins at the Gallery at BFI Southbank (February 13 to April 26) may offer one possible answer to this question. Jane and Louise Wilson spent ten days in the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of Arts, London, doing research on the director's abandoned Holocaust project "Aryan Papers" (based on Louis Begley's 1991 novel Wartime Lies). The artists were originally commissioned by Animate Projects to make something that was going to be a reflection upon the archive, but the sheer abundance of reference material suggested a more selective approach. The famously meticulous filmmaker had left a wealth of photographs, boxes, production stills and - perhaps most important to the Wilson Twins - a number of wardrobe shots of Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege, who was to play one of the main characters in the story (had the film been released, she would have become the most significant female protagonist in all of Kubrick's cinema). The Wilsons interviewed and filmed ter Steege, re-enacted the director's wardrobe tests, added a voiceover, and combined this with newsreel footage and archival material. The result is Unfolding the Aryan Papers, a single-screen installation framed by large mirrors on both sides to create a kind of mise-en-abyme effect. The notion of the lost, incomplete or destroyed film represents an enduring cinematic trope - consider for instance the search for the mythical missing reels in Theo Angelopoulos's Ulysses's Gaze (1995) or Paolo Cherchi Usai's elegy to the ephemerality of film in his book The Death of Cinema (2001) - one that seems to find a new and imaginative embodiment in the Wilsons' video art/research project. -A.G.
February 16, 2009
These days, discussions about the future of academic publishing are legion. Whether the debate centers on the question of open access, the time-honored practice of peer review, or the utilization of alternative channels of communication to transmit research content, there seems currently to be a certain amount of pressure on the academic community to rethink and renew its modi operandi as far as publishing is concerned. The digital scholarly network MediaCommons, a project-in-progress supported by the Institute for the Future of the Book and the MacArthur Foundation, is an association that invites researchers and students to "shift the focus of scholarship back to the circulation of discourse." Their goal is to provide access to a host of intellectual resources such as blogs, wikis, journals and even monographs, as well as to initiate "larger-scale publishing projects." Now in an early phase of development, the network hopes to contribute to a transformation of academic publishing and to the evolution of "new forms of digital scholarship and pedagogy." The site is well worth a visit. -A.G.
February 5, 2009
Vik Muniz, Memory Rendering, 3-D Screening
If you are anywhere near Williamstown, Massachusetts this spring you should take the time to visit the Williams College Museum of Art. Their exhibition Labeltalk 2009: Vik Muniz (January 17 – May 17) features ten of the artist’s Memory Renderings from the 1989-2000 series “The Best of Life”:
“Memory Renderings are photographs of drawings that Vik Muniz (Brazilian, born 1961) drew from his recollection of a photograph printed in “The Best of Life,” a book that featured iconic photographs from Life magazine between 1936 and 1972. Muniz photographed his drawings in soft focus to make them blurry and remove evidence of his hand. He also printed them through a half tone screen to simulate the pixilated quality of photographs published in a magazine–the format in which most people first encountered the images. The iconic images include the student standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square, soldiers raising the American flag in Iwo Jima, and John John saluting his father’s coffin” (from the press release).
Muniz has described how he became more involved with questions concerning the medium after working as a sculptor and having his pieces photographed for documentation: “It was then that I realized I was after the images of those objects more than I was after the objects themselves,” he has said.
After “The Best of Life,” Muniz has increasingly worked with unconventional materials in re-creating images, including thread, dirt, street trash, ketchup, chocolate, sugar, junk, toys, and diamonds. His work has turned into an adventurous reflection on image and materiality, on the visual and the sensorial. He often starts off with the material and chooses his subjects accordingly. His photograph of his drawing of Da Vinci’s ''Last Supper'' in chocolate syrup seems to recall the fact that the original fresco was already deteriorating in Da Vinci’s lifetime. And in a portrait of Jackson Pollock painting, derived from Hans Namuth’s famous photo, the chocolate seems to allude to Pollock’s dripping of paint onto the canvas.
This playful reflection on original and copy, on performance and object, is a constant in Muniz’ work. He made all the small plasticine sculptures photographed for his series Individuals (1992) with the same one lump of plasticine. Similarly, for Pictures of Thread (1997), he created landscape sculptures by first accumulating black thread, then photographing the landscape he made from it – before repeating this process for every sculpture, destroying the previous sculptural version before creating a new one. In exhibitions, he displays the ball of plasticine or the thread he used next to the pictures.
When the Williams College Museum of Art published a catalogue for their important exhibition “Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain” three years ago, the book – which is highly recommended – included an essay by Mieke Bal in which she wrote the following about Muniz’ “Memory Rendering of Tram Bang” (drawn from his recollection of Nick Ut’s iconic press photograph):
“Muniz addresses the viewers affectively, but at the same time he compels the shift from a seemingly innocuous, perceptual appropriation of the suffering to an awareness of looking’s active participation in what is seen. The visual grasp is turned from a transparent tool into a felt uncertainty. … Muniz’ approach uses his miraculously accurate memory to give us the contrary message. Instead of saying memory can be trusted, he shows how we are fooled.” -Ø.V.
January 23, 2009
Toward the end of last year, Cahiers du cinéma published a list of the 100 greatest films of all time, also available as an illustrated book: 100 Films pour une cinémathèque idéale. There is seemingly nothing too controversial about this - after all, this is what film publications do all the time (and sure enough, Citizen Kane came out on top again) - except for the fact that no British films made the list (though one could make the case that Barry Lyndon (67 on the list) is a British film, as it was shot partly in England, based on the work of a British author and made by an American director who at the time had been living in Britian for more than a decade). This oversight has naturally triggered a great deal of commentary in British media (the case got mentioned on the editorial page of the February edition of Sight and Sound, for instance). Obviously, such a ranking reflects the personal taste of the 76 French directors, critics and industry executives that made it, but Cahiers is arguably the most influential film magazine in the world and such a notable omission does little to challenge what has perhaps become too formulaic a perception of British cinema. Canons tend to be conservative by nature, of course, but the relative absence of films not only from the UK but - perhaps even more conspicuously - from world cinema (save for a handful of Japanese cinema classics and one by Ray) is somewhat confounding. Filmmakers like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Wong Kar-wai, and Tsai Ming-liang, to name just a few, certainly belong on such a list. As do films from the avant-garde, and films directed by women... -A.G.
January 21, 2009
The University Press of Mississippi continues to publish important books on comics. Just out is Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester’s A Comics Studies Reader, a collection consisting of twenty-eight contributions addressing a broad array of issues and perspectives. In the Introduction the editors explain that the anthology ”is intended as a starting point for defining comics studies as well as a springboard for further investigation” (xii). In other words, here’s plenty to dive into, both for those who are new to comics studies and those who have been part of the conversation for a while already. –Ø.V.
January 14, 2009
This week, the always dependable Criterion Collection issues two DVD's on its Eclipse label of Roberto Rossellini's fascinating but perhaps rarely seen television work - The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966) and Rossellini's History Films (the latter consists of the three separate titles Blaise Pascal (1972), The Age of the Medici (1973) and Cartesius (1974)). Having abandoned the medium of film back in 1963, the director who contributed so profoundly to the development of the Italian Neoralist movement, the high modernism of the 1950s' art cinema and the revolution in documentary filmmaking at the dawn of he 1960s, embarked on a new career making historical films for French and Italian television networks. This radical work served an explicitly didactic purpose, so Rossellini deliberately emphasized ideas, argument and analysis at the expense of narrative and drama. In order to curtail viewer identification, he avoided crosscutting and close-ups, favoring instead long takes, zooms and camera movement. Working with the historians Philippe Erlanger and Jean-Dominique de la Rochefoucauld, the director conceived his cycle of history films as an educational project, probably a preposterous notion in a televisual age in which history only seems to matter as long as it comes packaged as entertainment. -A.G.
January 10, 2009
Curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, the fourth Tate Triennial (February 3-April 26) launches the concept of altermodernism. This is the influential French critic's latest neologism and refers to art that supposedly displays a renewed commitment to the realm of the real and to the vicissitudes of the contemporary moment. Thus, an altermodernist aesthetics (a somewhat cumbersome phrase) will typically be interdisciplinary, postmedial, postnational and intercontinental and drawn toward issues pertaining to globalization, travel, migration, communication and technology. Among the featured artists are Gustav Metzger, Tacita Dean, Rachel Harrison and Marcus Coates. Whether the term will catch on obviously remains to be seen... - A.G.
January 8, 2009
The one-day conference The Archive in Motion: New Conceptions of the Archive in Contemporary Thought and New Media is to take place in Oslo (at Nasjonalbiblioteket) March 13th, 2009, with, among others, Wolfgang Ernst. For program and registration, please contact Eivind Røssaak. - A.G.