Images Blog 2009 # 2
Harun Farocki's One Image Doesn't Take the Place of the Previous One (at Prefix Gallery in the 401 Richmond St. complex) is a densely complex series of installations adding up to an engrossing whole. Farocki informed the on-line journal hors champs (out there? beyond parameters or boundaries?) that he prefers to perform in the museum structures as a documentarian rather than a visual artist.
However, these have never been easy definitions or distinctions. Photography and its cousins cinematography and videography - even when eschewing artifice and/or ornamentation - are still about framing and selection and lighting. Meta-documentary is a well-entrenched trope throughout the world's museums, and museums have always been about showcasing the evidence.
Farocki's two-channel projection Counter Music sets up dialogues and oppositions between performative cameras and surveillance apparatus, between analogue and digital formats of documentation, and between production and re-production of images. Farocki excerpts that ur-modernist Dziga Vertov's The Man with the Movie Camera, as well as Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and contrasts these landmarks with contemporary surveillance technologies which no longer require any men or women with movie cameras. Whereas Vertov began his day producing images, today we global- citizens and image-disseminators - begin by reproducing images. We are editors of what has already been edited, one might observe. Yet the host or source images persist - they will never be replaced by reprints and manipulations no matter how many Print (de)Generations removed. The subject of print generation (and re-generation) is the designated through line of this 22nd edition of the Images Festival, and print is of course an ambiguous word. Print that which must be disseminated or distributed and re-print that which must be problematized or deconstructed or restructured or recovered or ... ?. Because one image cannot take the place of its predecessor - either temporally or spatially. Source images reverberate, even when they themselves are images of images of images.
Counter Music plays to the left of an installation titled Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades. This is a revision of an installation Farocki made in 1995 to celebrate the hundredth year of the birth of cinema, and accordingly the first looped clip is from The Melies Brothers' inaugural film The Train. The final clip is from Lars Von Trier's (and Bjork's) Dancer in the Dark, a musical about labour among other subjects. All of the looped scenes involve workers leaving from their employer's factories. Film, video, labour, global economies, surveillance, Military/Industrial Complexities - these tropes are all abundantly present throughout decades of classical and even art-cinema. One Image Does Not Take the Place of the Previous One is one serious afternoon's investment, and that is not a warning.
Video's surveillance origins are also essayed by Jan Peacock's installation at Gallery 44 - titled Finder. The exhibitions title stems from the heading in the upper left corner of a McIntosh computer - "Finder" is responsible for user management etcetera. Finder leads to Search and Compile - it is a tool for a desperate need to accumulate evidence. But arguably very little of what is documented by surveillance technologies is particularly useful to agendas or missions. Surveillance technologies overwhelmingly capture and record the everyday, which can be quite fulfilling and amusing if one is not preoccupied with payoffs and affirmed revelations.
Finder is an installation involving three titled visible components, and also a fourth component consisting of audio isolated from the three visual streams. Account uses four almost tiny embedded LCD screens, displaying surveillance stock accumulated by using a miniature endoscopic camera to snoop around the gallery's workspace - documenting not only the employees' work stations but also rifling through their desk drawers and storage spaces. Shades of Watergate, shades of Conrad Black, and more. However, the evidence is barely there - no "aha" moments for Nosy Parkers and Law and Order wannabees. This snooping is of course undertaken after the employees gave gone home for the day, but nothing is legible that indicates anything other than a bureaucracy among bureaucracies.
Along the gallery's east wall, there are two projections - both visible from a bench positioned against the north wall. The title There There refers to the specific location of the projected footage (Pont Marie de Paris, scanning from Notre Dame to Ile Saint-Louis), as well as to Gertrude Stein's famous question regarding San Francisco, and also to the reassuring tone of voice often accompanied by a steady soothing hand. Surely enough, Peacock's roving scanning camera is at least as focused on her hand that caresses the bridge's railing as it is on the classical tourist's panorama. To the right of There There, Finder (same as the exhibition's title) presents some moments from Peacock's ongoing project titled Competence Archive. Again, we see little incidences or encounters among the everyday. We see a car that can't seem to quite fit comfortably into its inadequate parking spot. We see endearing but comic missteps and possibly miscommunications. We see what is familiar but what could be unusual, if one seriously pays attention. We don't see anything that needs to be accounted for.
Finder, like much of Peacock's sizable body of work, is concerned with pleasures of watching - of taking one's time and paying attention to images or sequences which are more complex than one might think. It is also about individuals' responsibility to look (and listen), or else become a pawn without agency for the conglomerate of authority figures and institutions which assume ownership of recording and re-recording technologies.
(I would like to acknowledge Eyewitness Report, Peggy Gale's brochure essay for this exhibition. It is very good and very helpful.)