Saturday, April 28, 2012


The eye searches most of all for faces or maybe even parts of faces, but also the human figure and especially if it’s moving.  There is not much of a body of curatorial comment on video as art so far -- at least that I know of -- so I’m winging this post.  But looking for human faces and bodies must be one of the most basic principles of composing in three dimensions, (one being time), and composing in overlays that rhyme, reveal and obscure.
So far videos, originally created and televised in support of love songs, have been more seriously used for political reasons, or maybe for education, or for advertising.  Maybe because of the commodification of young men’s bodies in perfume ads on the one hand and war documentaries on the other, a way of looking at the art that works with young male images, traditional as that has been over the centuries, has scattered.  Quite apart from that issue, how to present this work in art galleries has been confused by discussion about how much to present work-on-video as a social phenomenon in homes (old-fashioned clunky televisions with living room couches) and how much to use flat screens (now everywhere) and how much to explore innovations (projecting onto buildings).  But what abides, persists and recurs universally is video as seduction.
The work of the boys of Cinematheque uses a technique of transparent montage and overlay to mix human figure (usually their own figures) with the harsh environments of cities, abandonment, and decay.  Young but hardly naive, restricted in terms of written words but eloquent in terms of image and symbol as well as totally unrestricted in terms of social sanctions, these boys -- many the age of soldiers killing in Afghanistan -- are not obligated to educate their audience.
Even on a still print, we must use our eyes.  At first impact there is color and shape.  Then our searching eyes see a profile, a nape, the rounded flesh of limbs, the seashell complexity of an ear, and always the eyes looking back at us.  They know who they are -- when they can hold it together -- but they ask,  “Who are those people who deny we exist, who insist we are invisible?  Why don’t they want to see the delicate tracing of a near-child’s upper lip, the brushy thicket of hair that marks an older boy?”  These images are like darkroom films slowly developing under fluid in trays, except that the fluid is in the observer’s eye and the developing is in the observer’s brain as it learns to interpret.
Many expect to see art images in galleries and museums -- in fact, cannot identify them as art unless that’s what it says out front on the marquee, so no wonder that the young people (make that INTERCONTINENTAL young people) -- who follow everything through YouTube on their own handheld device connections -- don’t think of it as art either.  It is something much deeper, halfway between the mythic and the dreaming.  Most of us are taught to tolerate nude people and even violence so long as it’s “art”, but for these young people it’s Life.
Kids know how to find these images, Cinematheque needs to sell them, but society gets in the way -- as usual with anything that seems to challenge the status quo.  If someone with a Ph.D. and creds from museums presented this same material, they would be widely praised and discussed.  But if kids do it, the first impulse is to label it out-of-bounds, pornographic.  Kids should not desire.  Kids should be obedient.  Kids should wait until we want to pay them on our terms.  (Grants, degrees, foundation applications).  When we say “kids belong to us,” we mean we own them.
A big part of what propels the boys of Cinematheque is violence imposed on them in the past.  Invasive, demeaning, stigmatizing, permanently damaging, it is socially-tolerated torture, meant to confine boys to homes and institutions that are also torturing.  Besides image, the other liberating force is movement, maybe freeform like skateboards and bikes which make playgrounds of public places or maybe dance -- even when onstage the free-form funky intimate dance of the street in repertory creations.  These are particularly satisfying to the loner who through dance is in sync with a working friendship group.  They are not the formally restrictive companies of ballet, but accepting companies of all shapes and sizes.  And excellent video subjects.
The misadventures of our clueless and adversarial politicians (as well as the commodified and scandal-mongering media) have so disempowered nations that they resort to shaking sticks at their own people -- no less in the USA than in Syria or Egypt, who cannot even refrain from killing.  In an effort to escape, people migrate here and there, taking their children with them.  Images of trauma haunt them as they try to learn new languages and survive.  Their brains must struggle daily to find meaning.  Some give up, sell their children, and sink into drugs.  A few kids get hold of video cameras, so small and ubiquitous that they migrate from pocket to pocket almost as if they had lives of their own: the electronic equivalent of the first mammals in the world of dinosaurs.  Once kids begin to see patterns, they look to see what the others are making.  The computers in public libraries in the United States are used by children as avid as hummingbirds before hollyhocks.
Cinematheque is like those funky “peoples” dance groups.  Their empowerment comes from willingness to collaborate democratically even when the results are scandalous.  In the late Sixties (a time of assassination and street riots) and Seventies (communes and psychedelics) many people tried “pure” freeform democracy in small groups.  They knew to actively avoid the government and were wary even of non-profit do-gooders.  Those impulses have returned now on a worldwide scale, given a desperate edge by economic collapse.  We cannot be paralyzed by the threat of apocalypse.  We cannot simply protect ourselves with pessimism.  
The reason people die is that they must make room for a new generation and that new generation is here.  The fact that they are rather invisible is good. It protects them from censorship, control, capture, and confinement,   

1 comment:

Art Durkee said...

I agree that this kind of video art goes all the way down to the mythic and the dreaming. It's often more like the cave paintings and pictographs the ancient peoples did than it is like anything you see in an art gallery or on cable TV. I've thought about the mythopoetic possibilities of video for some time, since it can also incorporate text and music, as well as moving and still images in time. So it becomes multi-dimensional, and potentially transcendent.

It strikes me that video art is potentially a component of a mythopoetic and archetypal liturgy. There is something liminal about it when it's at its most poetic. I'm thinking two films I just saw, Emilio Estevez' "The Way" and Terence Malick's "The Tree of Life."

Your point, about how for the young seeing nudes and art on the screen is just life, is well-taken. One wonders how this overlaps with surveillance culture: the fact that public places are ever more watched by hidden authority figures. Your life is already enacted on a screen, so why not appropriate the screen and direct your own film. A form of self-empowerment when evading the watching eye is impossible anyway.