Sunday, 19 December 2010

notes from “kinomuseum, towards an artists’ cinema”

“In her essay collected in Preziosi and Farago’s anthology, Paula Findlen traces the etymology of the word ‘museum’ in the Renaissance, where it signified “the place where the muses dwell” – an almost-mythological any-place without spatial or temporal dimensions.” P.14

“The museum is a political place. As an artist, Fraser is not alone in taking the museum itself as her subject. Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Box in a Valise’ (1935-41) is an artwork and a transportable collection that contains reproductions of the artist’s ‘other’ artworks.” P.16

“Duchamp and Broodthaers share the fact that they construct both a museum (a museological frame) and the work (their own work/s) that it contains. These ‘authors’ are also the authorizing institution. As such, they exploit or deviate from the definitively museological business of removing something from one place in order to re-situate it in another: the museum expresses its political, social and cultural agendas by establishing and maintaining a collection.” P.17

“Preziosi and Farago describe the museum as a construct, re-presenting things in order to make sense of them. And it is this – to reiterate – the removal of a thing from one place and its re-situation in another place, which forms a continuous thread through the various cultural readings of the museum. It is the pivot upon which turns Theodor W. Adorno’s essay ‘Valéry Proust Museum’, as it compares two French poets’ positions, and links institutional responsibility to personal experience, and pleasure. The culturally conservative Paul Valéry experiences almost an act of violence in the curatorial frame of the Louvre: ‘Neither a hedonistic nor a rationalistic civilisation could have constructed a house of such disparities.’ On the other hand, Adorno quotes Marcel Proust: ‘The masterpiece observed during diner no longer produces in us the exhilarating happiness that can be had only in a museum.’” P.17

“In the short film ‘Mounting Buffalo’ (1920, ‘Toute la mémoire du monde’) from the archive of he American Museum of Natural History, a buffalo is systematically dismembered, its organs replaced by plaster, its body remade as entirely artificial, its skin draper ‘naturally’ over its new (typical) form. Cinema, like the museum, effects a memorialisation.” P.19

“‘Kinomuseum’ similarly attempts to make content of criticality by locating the museum in and as the cinema auditorium, rather than deploying cinema as the museum’s ideological annex. There is a physicality to the proposition, as expressed by Mary Kelly’s programme ‘Fallout’: three epochal works, from three different decades, were shown in three auditoria of the Lichtburg cinema. They were not looped, like film and video in a gallery room that the audience enters and leaves at will, but timed sequentially, one after the other, so that the audience had to physically move from one auditorium to the next at the end of each work. The perambulatory space of the gallery collapsed onto the organizing architecture and institution of cinema. The difficulty of such movement through spaces that otherwise control or curtail it (cinemas are more like airports than art galleries in this respect), this peculiar arrangement, was the limit of cinema made physically manifest.” P.26

“Ian White: Did you feel dissatisfied by the cinema auditorium as a vehicle for exhibiting your work?
Mary Kelly: Yes, although it’s easier to make these observations with hindsight! I was still in love with film because I was caught up in a particular moment when it was viewed as the most progressive medium and I was trying to do activist work. But I also really wanted to do something with still images and I thought there was so much potential in installation; a kind of temporal experience that could be more self-reflexive. My problem with cinema, I mean the conventions of spectatorship, is that you have to watch a film from beginning to end, that you don’t have a chance to stop and rewind. Also, over the years, cinema has increasingly become the dominant institution of our time, and the museums that we used to complain about in the 1970s have become sanctuaries for experimental work; the only thing left that’s not completely virtual. It’s one of those rare instances where the outmoded has some redemptive value. It was absolutely clear to me that ‘Post-Partum Document’ was not going to be a film. It needed material things that I could frame, both literally and metaphorically, as objects. The diagrams were just as emotional as the memorabilia and, as time went on, I became increasingly convinced that installation was the only way to relay this. At the time we were saturated with images of women and I was trying to figure out how you could give a voice to that subject position without a figurative referent. The solution seemed to be that more should become contingent on the viewer, in how people moved around the space and became surrogates for the absent body in the work. I’d take that even further now and say that the artwork doesn’t exist without the viewer. Girgio Agamben has spoken about the ethical position as one where you’re neither producing something not enacting it. I think this is what happens as a spectator, if you can really let yourself be open to that possibility: you complete the work by anticipating rather than judging or deciphering it. P.51

White: ‘Mea Culpa’ (1999) explores the horrors of war from a very different perspective to ‘Gloria Patri’
Kelly: ‘Mea Culpa’ was my attempt to deal with the victims of war crimes. It was the most difficult project I’ve ever undertaken because it just seemed so difficult to pull off without seeming wither megalomaniacal or hysterical. I worked on it from 1996 to 1999, trying to figure out the best way to do it, until I came across what I thought was the perfect medium: the lint that collects in the screen of a domestic clothes dryer; ephemeral yet integral to everyday life. So I transferred my texts in vinyl to the screen, and by controlling the drying process – first white clothes then black – reproduced them as intaglio script in compressed lint; nothing was added or stamped on. It was very direct, like an assisted ready-made. The finished work is presented as contiguous panels of texts. You have to keep walking to read it, and can never see everything at once. The phenomenological effect is very rhythmic and I wanted to develop this musical and, in a way, cinematic potential in my next project. P.56

The last word is from Jacques Rivette:
… The cinema I’m after… films which impose themselves on the spectator through a sort of domination of visual and sound ‘events’, and which require the screen, a big screen, to be effective. These are films that impose themselves visually through their monumentality. What I mean is that there is a weight to what is on the screen, and which is there on the screen as a statue might be, or a building or a huge beast. P.68

Hall of Mirrors by Emily Peethick
Analogies between cinema and screen and the mirror are well known in the cinematic theory. Film theorist Christian Metz argued that, in the identification with the gaze of the camera, the cinema spectator re-enacts what psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan described as ‘the mirror stage’ – the infant’s first identification with their own image in the mirror being their first recognition of themselves as ‘other’, and the first time that they objectively see themselves within their surroundings, as part of society. In relation to photography, theorist Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins observed that, ‘mirror and camera are tools of self-reflection and surveillance. Each creates a creates a double of the self, a second figure who can be examined more closely than the original – a double that can also be alienated from the self.’ This mixture of self-identification and alienation can be found in Joan Jonas’s early performance video ‘Left Side Right Side’ (1974) in which she performs to the camera with the aid of a mirror that distorts her image. Plainly describing her movements, she consistently mixed up what she is seeing, at one point indicating her left eye and announcing, ‘This is my left eye (or right) eye,’ creating a slippage between real and reflection, viewer and viewed. During the film she draws an infinity loop that suggests the co-dependence of these relations.
This confusion of subject/object relations can also be found in artist Dan Graham’s seminal performance, ‘Performer/Audience/Mirror’ (1977), in which the artist performs in front of a large mirror, which is not dissimilar in proportions to a cinema screen. Graham initially describes a series of simple actions out loud as he performs them, then turn on the audience and describes their responses to him, before turning back towards the mirror and describing both himself and the audience through their reflection. Through these actions, Graham confronts their respective roles as performer and audience, object and subject, creating a heightened state of self-consciousness.
In later works, Graham went on to further analyse how subject/object relations are encountered in public space through the high reflectivity of modernist functionalist architecture. Here he finds the subject is consistently reflected back on itself; the window, like the mirror, forms a screen that yet again unifies and separates public and private, subject and object, creating a fractured or doubled self which reinforces social divisions, in particular, he highlights corporate architecture as employing this double function of both revealing and concealing its business:
The glass’s literal transparency not only falsely objectifies reality, but is a paradoxical camouflage; for while the actual function of the corporation may be to concentrate its self-contained power and control by secreting information, its architectural façade gives the illusion of absolute openness. The transparency is visual only; glass separates the visual from the verbal, insulating outsiders from the content of the decision-making processes, and form the invisible, but real, interrelationships linking company operations to society. P.99

A more ambiguous notion of the surface is explored in the Bernadette Corporation’s film ‘Hell Frozen Over’ (2000), in which semiologist Sylvère Lotringer is filmed standing on a frozen lake discussing the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé. Describing the sense of nothingness in the white emptiness of the poet’s page, he portrays the poet as an illusion-maker and a creator of playful artifice, his account interspersed with footage of a fashion shoot in which the similarly cool gaze of models, as with a one-way mirror creates a black screen defying identification. Bernadette Corporation themselves play with an ambiguous notion of subjectivity, collectively working under the guise of a fictional corporation, which they describe as ‘the perfect alibi for not having to fix an identity’, appropriating the corporate strategy of the blank façade. This fluidity of subjectivity is also explored in Ina Wudtke’s video ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Worker (rmx)’ (2006), in which the artist performs a text by the theorist Dieter Lesage which objectively unravels her various roles as an artist, dj and magazine editor, as well as how the socio-economic condition of the art world reflect the neo-liberal economy’s desire for a flexible worker. Wudtke presents this form of split subjectivity as a ‘gentle form of schizophrenia’ – as she puts it: ‘you pretend and you are for real.’ As in Frederic Jameson’s theory of ‘late capitalism,’ schizophrenia here becomes the embodiement of a post-capitalist subject in the, ‘experience of isolated, discontinued, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence.’
This sense of ‘gentle schizophrenia,’ the blurring of subject and object, the presence of absence – as embodied in the spectral – and the fractured or disconnected self, become the leitmotifs of this hall of mirrors, where vanity is refracted, displaced, and open to contradiction. This fracturing of viewpoints can also be related to the very idea of Kinomuseum, which, through virtually transplanting the idea of a museum into a cinema space and reading one through the other (and vice versa), creates what Ian White describes as ‘cinema of multiple point of view.’ As in Dan Graham’s ‘Cinema (Model), here the conventions of the ‘official’ culture of the museum and the Cartesian spatial arrangement of the cinema auditorium are symbolically opened up and displaced to allow for other perspectives, introducing conflict, difference, and a sense of consciousness of the codes of each – and the ways in which they might be changed.” P.101

“I think this is a very old problem which artists’ films – frequently called ‘avant-garde films,’ or, in certain times ‘underground films,’ or which may be called ‘independent films’ – have consciously dealt with at least since the 1960s. They practised a radical and playful form of detachment from two kinds of social and ideological apparatuses. One is regular commercial cinema, and the other the art market and the art museum. In a way this detachment from both systems could be looked at as incredibly stupid from the point of view of what the common sense is in a capitalist society. On the other hand, it could also be looked at as heroic, and I am aware of the pathos involved in this, but I was very happy in re-reading a wonderful roundtable discussion that was published in ‘October’ magazine a few years ago, in which Chrissie Iles was also part of the discussion. In this discussion Annette Michelson said that since the 1960s she had felt that independent filmmaking was the last of the heroic occupations. And I think that her feeling has a lot to do with that resistance towards both the cinema as a commercial apparatus and the art market.

In a way, independent filmmaking uses one of these hegemonic economies to refute the other. It uses cinema, films and its connotations of endless reproducibility and availability, to refute the museum’s insistence on the unique object which can only be seen when the owner shows it. And on the other hand, it uses the art world or artwork connotations to refute cinema’s insistence on commercial validity and the pressure to make the money back that has been invested. It is at such a point in a radical filmmaking practice that the question of sustainability not as the opposite but the verso-side of heroism, the question being how that third, inbetween place of practice can be sustained with falling prey to either of the two forms of commodification mentioned before. Now, Lars Henrik Gass posits the film festival as that third place, which is of course understandable because he runs a film festival. But even though I used to run a film festival myself and I do understand its utopian possibilities, I hope you forgive me if I call attention to another third place which is less of a special event but an attempt to have a continuous offering of those third-space experiences, and the place I mean is called ‘film museum.’” P.119

Inner and Outer space
(shown on 7 May 2007)
Curated and presented by Ian White
… photography, film, and inexpensive pamphlets and books, [whose reproducibility] helped to accelerate the circulation of museum objects and their related discourse. Through these media, curators and educators developed the means by which the knowledge generated would extend beyond any singular outpost and thus more effectively shape the public, securing their authoritative place in the emerging landscape of modern leisure. To some degree, the field of art history, art journalism, art catalogues, coffee-table books, blockbuster exhibits, and even the seemingly ubiquitous gift shop owe their genesis to the potential and the perils of this living, mediated museum. The Museum of Modern Art’s Film Library formed during a period in which efforts to realise the ‘living museum’ had accelerated considerably. The museum’s technological network expanded to include newspapers, radio, and even television. American museums were, in general, undergoing considerable changes in heir curatorial practices, funding sources, and basic institutional structure […] During its first ten years (1929 to 1939), MoMA was widely considered an innovative and unusual undertaking and quickly became a flagship American institution, representing the best as well as the newest of modern works. Like many American museums, MoMA was established with the resources of wealthy industrialists and a cadre of East Coast elites who conceived of the museum, from the beginning, as a national educational experiment of vital importance. By making use of established emergent methods of curation that embraced media technologies, MoMA enacted the ideals of not just the modern but also the mobile. In other words, the living museum had become a modern and mass-mediated museum. – Haidee Wasson, Museum Movies: The Museum of Modern Art and the Birth of Art Cinema. P.166

Toute la mémoire du monde
(Shown on 8 May 2007)
Curated and presented by Ian White

The uses of the word museum in the nineteenth century, especially in the popular press, further attest to the symbolic power of the institution. Between 1806 and 1914, more that seventy newspapers, journals, and albums carried the word musée (museum) in their titles. This fact alone suggests an interesting relationship between, on the one hand, the world of press, with its retinue of money, publicity, and advertising […] and, on the other hand, the museum as a privileged exhibition space. The metaphor of the ‘printed museum’ presents a particularly striking image: the museum as encyclopaedic institution devoted to the education of all. This image, although it represented an ideal in many ways unrealistic vision of the museum, carried great authority and tended to supplant other available representations. It was from this model that the periodicals borrowed their purpose (to amuse, to instruct, and to moralise), their ‘table of contents’ (an encyclopaedia of useful facts), their conceptual categories, and even their layout, which was formally analogous to that of the great museum galleries.
The marriage of the museum and the press in the nineteenth century was not a coincidence. In their preambles, many editors stressed the significance they attached the title ‘museum.’ The printed ‘museum’ was to be a genuine museum. – Chantal Georgel, ‘The Museum as Metaphor in the Nineteenth-Century France’

Alain Resnais: Toute la mémoire du monde - France, 1956 - 21’, 35 mm
Resnais’ remarkable documentary on the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris examines its architecture and its operating systems as grand narratives. The memory of the whole world becomes a labyrinth rendered as an expressionist thriller.

What happens is that the museum gives this guarantee that the work that it contains has ‘museum quality’ …. So it’s about the condition of creating value, and that is the function of the museum. But what happens in the museum, which Ian also talks about, is that it also removes a work. It controls its destiny of exhibition, dissemination and, most importantly, interpretati n. oI think there is a distinction between the function of the museum and a place like an archive or a library, because an archive has no imperative to display. The library is the same thing. It’s a different kind of space. And I think it is very important to make this distinction and to think of the museum with its function, which is primarily to collect, display and interpret. P.133

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