Images Blog #5 Andrew James Paterson
Late yesterday afternoon, I dropped into the opening for the Documentary Uncertainty exhibition at A Space. Three strong artists - Stephen Andrews, John Greyson, and Hito Steyerl - not only problematize dissemination and reception of documentary images but also the images' veracity - the images' origins and initial intentions or purposes. Greyson's and Steyerl's projections add to a trope that has been playing throughout this 21st Images Festival - concerning the precarity of film stocks and archives and film as a medium/material. Both of these artists are dealing with lost or destroyed film and attempts to recreate. Steyerl's Film Journal No.1 deals with the activist archivist restorer uncovering authorial and temporal limitations of what she is attempting to recreate, while Greyson's 14.3 Seconds presents six restorations from the 14.3 seconds of film scraps surviving the bombing of Iraq's film archives during the war. Steyerl's and Greyson's installations are smartly complimented by Andrews' Yesterday's News Remembered Today, in which the artist has downloaded an explosive image from the Iraq war from the Internet and then hand-rendered in crayon drawings rubbed over a window screen on mylar or parchment. Andrews recreates the dot-matrix look of newspaper images and/or computer screens while acknowledging the voids between the dots. All three artists are drawing attention to images one doesn't or can't see - images (and histories) that documentary projects must nevertheless acknowledge the presence of.
Then I went to the Workman Theatre to see Charles Atlas' Hail the New Puritan, which is neither literal documentary nor fantasy but performative and an example of the filmmaker/videographer as performer/dancer. Produced in the mid-eighties in Thatcherite Britain, Hail the New Puritan presents a day in the whirlwind life of punk-dance choreographer sensation Michael Clark and his glorious 'company'. This is a gem celebrating drag on the dole, with performative/interventions in the streets and in makeshift studios. There are cameos by the likes of performance artist/designer Leigh Bowery, Fall curmudgeon (and verbal dancer) Mark E. Smith, and others. The party at the end of the day is breathtaking to watch. Clark and his fellow dervishes are matched by Atlas' camera with its ins and outs and in-betweens and underneaths and sharp concrete circles. While very much of its period, I was reminded of Warhol's often down-below cruisy camera and also Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures, with its lack of montage and emphasis on cinematic and gender fluidities. Hail The New Puritan (Not!). However, the cinema was only half full. Too bad - perhaps preparing and/or preparing for examinations is a necessary priority for many artists and audiences?
On Thursday afternoon, I paid a visit to Diaz Contemporary Gallery to take in Paulette Philips' installation - History Appears Twice: The First Time as Tragedy the Second Time as Farce. This is a thoughtfully conceived and installed installation utilizing video and sculpture. Philips sets up opposition between the elements of her installation, based on the personal histories of modernist architects Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier. One room houses a 32 minute videotape which inventories a famous house - a modernist ruin. The House (coded or named as E1027) was built by Gray, usurped by Le Corbusier, and subsequently deserted by Gray. Now the house has not only decayed but also been claimed - one or more graffiti artists have been here. My favourite component of Philips' installation is an activated mirror that denies narcissists the privilege of their close-ups. One stares into the mirror, sees a brief self-confirmation, and then the mirror pivots away. This is a cruel and witty time-based sculpture. It acidly mirrors collaborations and/or relationships which unsettling turns for the worse.
And then I had to top off my day with Winnipeg Wunderkind - Daniel Barrow. This phenomenon has achieved renown for his 'manual animations", combining overhead projection with video, soundtrack music, and live narration. This is both performing and performative art - a co-presentation with the Harbourfront World Stage Festival. Barrow's latest manual animation is called Every Time I see Your Picture I Cry. This time, Barrow's trajectory weaves through 'Helen Keller" as a stand-in for one who is different (and probably psychic) through the artist as literal garbage collector/scavenger to the artist/collector being pursued by a serial killer. Serial killers are of course notoriously obsessed with phone books and lists and inventories. They cast a wide net with a singular focus. Barrow works with a wide palette while maintaining intimacy. It's that voice and the complexity - the hands-on-ness, of all that he does in performance. He writes his lines but he also learns them. And, like all good phone book queens, he spends a lot of time with The Smiths.