2013 Images Blog 4 Andrew James Paterson
Friday April 12
Friday night just after quick dinner and now it’s time to make good on my promise to take in Althea Thauberger’s programme: A Memory Lasts Forever. This artist has built a sizable reputation based on a body of work touching many bases, or perhaps many conundrums. What are actual representations of nature (or are there any actual meaning genuine representations of nature)? What are boundaries between performance documentation and documentary (or is it all performance)? In some cases, Thauberger begs questions of not only what is collaboration but also what is authorship. Is who made this work the same question as whose work is this?
Many of Thauberger’s works (all except for one of this programme for instance) take place in “real time”. This does not mean there are no edits, although some of the works shown on video were shot on film stocks and the amount of stock used was the actual length of a roll or a number of rolls of film. Thauberger here references structuralist and materialist filmmaking by focusing on the properties and capabilities of her materials. An observation about the 26th Images Festival is that I’m noticing programmes and works concerned with what is both theatrical (meaning non-montaged) time and cinematic (meaning literally matching the length of the roll or the cassette) time. The exception to this edict within Thauberger’s programme is the title centrepiece, which is slightly longer than the length of an afternoon soap opera and which involves four cameras to track or “document its four performers or actors.
On the nature or natural conundrum, Thauberger’s contrasts different definitions of “nature” (surely as loaded a word as “culture”. There is nature as in flora and fauna (real nature surrounding the fake nature of the suburban swimming pool on A Memory Lasts Forever). There is domesticated nature which fails to return from cruel wild nature in the midst of fake nature (dead dog in the suburban swimming pool). There is nature which must be nature because it is familiar or recognizable form films set in nature (the Brokeback Mountain landscape of “Northern”). There is natural behaviour, which can denote everyday social interaction and also theatrical behaviour such as singing. (What one minute seems a soap opera is now a musical?) Performativity is in fact naturalistic, as people do possess performative instincts and desires which they censor in the everyday or the non-theatrical.
Thauberger is also obsessed with mores and structures of institutions. Her body of work consists of many residencies (maybe collaborations, but that is also a loaded word) within institutions. In Zivildeist =/ Kunstproject, made in a residency at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, she negotiated a working relationship with conscientious objectors to compulsory German military service who engaged in civilian rather than military service. With these eight men, she wrote an eighteen minute film exploring nationalism (another major concern of the artist’s), work ethics, group behaviour, ideal social conduct, individualism and collectivity, and so forth as social models. This work begs questions of authorship and also power dynamics. Thauberger is an outsider looking in, or is she also inside and if so, then how? Is she is a woman both observing and representing men who deviate from masculine expectations by objecting to military service, or is she is a North American among German men, or is she is an artist among men who may or may not be artists?
At the conclusion of this piece the outside world demands that fragmentation become unified. At the end of “North“, the seemingly comatose tree-planters are rescued by an angel landing by helicopter. Thauberger speaks of her deployment of allegories; here I thought of Lord of the Flies more than Jesus Christ. Actions or voices from the outside word (the real world) tend to restore order. This also happens at the conclusion of Zivildienst =/ Kunstproject. The four script variations, or four narrative possibilities, of the four drunken girls of A Memory Lasts Forever also will presumably be eventually resolved by an intrusion ¾ by a responsible adult if not actually by the police or the veterinarian. But resolution or closure is a demand of melodrama and its domesticated cousin the soap opera; and Thauberger flirts with these vocabularies only to retreat from them.
On the subject of veterinarians, the evening’s second On Screen programme consisted of Jane Gillooly’s Suitcase of Love and Shame. This work (part documentary and part voyeuristic fantasy of the non-fantastic) was constructed from sixty hours of reel-to-reel audiotape found in a suitcase purchased on eBay. The tapes not only reveal but were made by two middle-aged adults having a prolonged affair. She is an unmarried woman and he is a married man (and a respectable veterinarian). The filmmaker finds images to loosely match the audio-narratives. She is lonely and longing and often .looking out windows of perhaps this house; he is deviating from the normality of the animal hospital and he is sneakier than her. Many of Gillooly’s images are of sixties analogue recording devices ¾ parallels emerge between old-fashioned moralities and old-fashioned recording devices which of course are most often used for matters of surveillance. As is per usual within melodrama, sooner or later, the vet’s wife finds the tapes and the affair, um, peters out.
In the subsequent Q&A Gillooly was asked if she had any ethical qualms about using this found material (she didn’t). On Sunday afternoon, Images Festival will be holding a panel on the ethics and proprieties of artists working with found or appropriated materials. This of course is one of those subject realms that can host provocatively fascinating debates because there are never easy answers for all but probably the most obvious questions.