Images Blog 1 Andrew James Paterson
Hereafter Brenda Goldstein at Mercer Union March 19- May 1
Mercer Union’s location for the past nearly two years now has been on Bloor Street West near Lansdowne, which is somewhat off the beaten track of the Images Festival’s Off Screen sites and thus not on the annual Saturday afternoon tour route. However, last year Mercer had a very good installation running concurrently with the festival and the gallery has again come through strongly this year.
Brenda Goldstein’s installation Hereafter utilizes three main components. These are a projection of a female hospital morgue worker preparing a faceless corpse for embalmment, a slide display of typewritten text accounts of different individuals’ experiences in the face of impending deaths of strangers, and a 35 mm. film projector with a visibly running loop (of the projected film). The projector itself is a sculptural object, centring Goldstein’s sculptural installation. The slides and the loop at are opposite ends of the gallery ¾ one cannot watch or read them simultaneously. Words are so often after the picture rather than of the picture.
The subject terrain of “death” of course implies ghosts and this installation has its share of them. The individuals described or whose bodies are absent from the film loop are of course ghosts. So is Stan Brakhage’s 1971 film The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes, which was shot in a Pittsburgh morgue and which documented a number of autopsies. Brakhage’s film permitted or forced viewers to witness something not generally considered entertaining or pleasant. But in Goldstein’s film loop the body has already left the frame. Her installation is not intended to be viewed or experienced with the traditional audience perspective necessary for both mainstream and “avant-garde” film consumption. It is left for gallery attendees to be conducting and piecing together their own post-mortems, by itemizing the installation components and their details.
So the main ghost in Hereafter is that of the analogue world. The 35 mm. film stock is certainly considered to be an endangered species, although not quite gone the way of the manual typewriter with its infinite capacity for mistakes or slippages. Goldstein’s installation in fact segues very nicely indeed from many of the screenings, installations, and even performative lectures of the 2009 Images Festival. Hereafter is concerned with varieties of print ¾ what becomes printed and how this is executed, and then what cannot be printed ¾ and what is no longer necessary for the composition of a communicable image.
Sea Oak Emily Wardill at YYZ March 26 - April 17
In Emily Wardill’s Sea Oak, pictures and images themselves are ghosts, as in the fact that they are simply not present. In the centre of YYZ’s small front gallery, a light shines on a film projector. The installation consists of the projector, imageless black leader, and a soundtrack. It takes probably less than a minute to register the black leader and the projector’s presence; it takes an hour to listen to the entire soundtrack, which is assembled from a series of interviews Wardill undertook with members of the Rockridge Institute, a left-leaning think tank based in Berkeley, California.
In 2009, Wardill’s film The Diamond (Descartes’ Daughter) was definitely one of my favourite works. And the artist herself sees a strong formal relationship between the earlier film and Sea Oak. With regards to The Diamond (Descartes’ Daughter), “you have the diamond, which is at the centre of a re-created heist, spot-lit in the centre of the room, and in Sea Oak the projector itself is spot-lit in the gallery space (interview with Emily Wardill by Mike Sperlinger, pub. in Afterall, 27/01/09). So the projector itself becomes the image that is otherwise being denied. The verbosity members of the Rockridge Institute remain invisible.
Surely they are not doing so to remain clandestine¾ to keep their think-tanking top secret by denying facial recognition? No, the Rockridge project with its interviews is concerned about how language conjures up images in the minds of different listeners or audiences, and how therefore choosing singular images in tandem with specific words or phrases or even paragraphs is rote or simplistic. Words provide a sort of second-order spectacle ¾ they are suggested or described, which contrasts with how images are so frequently perceived. When one hears the word “bird”, for example, one doesn’t think of a starling or a sparrow or a crow. One thinks of a general or genetic “bird”, that flies in either open spaces or into poorly-lit buildings.
In Goldstein’s Hereafter, viewers have a choice to look at the film loop at one end, the typed-texts at the other, or the 35 mm. projector as itself a sculptural object. With Sea Oak, what you see is pretty much what you get, so viewers tend to walk around the projector as if looking at the speakers from different angles (or listening to them from different angles). There are no chairs or cinematic seating arrangements. Is there a perspective I’m missing here? Yes? No? The time discrepancy between registering the visual structure and taking in even fragments of the soundtrack is itself a comment on conventions of both gallery-film and gallery expectations. Certainly I did catch myself wishing that there had been something more to look at. Perhaps there could have been some abstract data emanating from the spoken soundtrack ¾ some wave patterns, I wondered to myself. But of course there were no such visuals, nor should there have been. If there had been visual distractions, then viewers could have predictably ignored their listening responsibilities and then that would be that. Language can indeed deny pictures, but it can also force one to invent pictures in their absence. By refusing to record talking heads and subjects in their laboratories and other prime locations, Wardill has in effect stripped not only documentary filmmaking down to its structural nuts and bolts ¾ its materials.
The Rockridge Institute’s ongoing research project concerns “framing” ¾ the creation of frames in peoples’ minds in order to shape and maintain identities and ideologies ¾ as well as the use of metaphor within political rhetoric. This latter concern suggests an impasse with timeworn leftist suspicion of spectacle and with traditional trust in indexical images. A considerable portion of the Rockridge Institute interviews comments upon the 2008 American election, which was at this point a work-in-progress.
In her Afterall interview with Mike Sperlinger, Wardill refers to an interview conducted by the television-journalist Ron Susskind with a senior (George W. Bush era) White House aide who critiques “the left” for being hopelessly obsessed with reality. On the right, the aide boasts, people have learned how to create facts. This is of course very creepy in relation to Afghanistan and Iraq and Everywhere Else. It is also the modus operandi of art and poetry ¾ of both defiance of logic and engagement with the quirks and peccadillos of logic. ”Where did the right steal all the exuberance and chaos of language ¾ that was our territory!” Well, there we go. Or...where do we go? And how soon? (One might also note that the likes of Michael Moore are hardly adverse to creating “facts”.)
Wile Hereafter eulogizes analogue materials and methodologies of the twentieth century; Sea Oak minimizes the analogue in order to provoke digitalia. In the twenty-first century, both activists and artists must reclaim the hyper-real and the surreal and the fantastic, since the “real” is either nonexistent or just damaged goods. But what about the melodramatic ¾ that staple of the nineteen-fifties (Sirk) and also the nineteen-seventies (Fassbinder, Screen)? On Sunday April 4th, the 23rd Images Festival will be showcasing Emily Wardill’s new film, which according to the artist is a melodrama ¾ melody plus drama. The film is titled Gatekeepers Without Game, and I can hardly wait to see it.