Images Blog 2009 - 7
With the bulk of the curated On Screen programmes scheduled between the Sunday and the Thursday nights, the last few days of the Images Festival were largely characterized by Live Images programmes and/or 'lectures'. On Thursday evening I attended the double programme 43 After 66 - now, what is with that title? Well, the "66" I believe must refer to the year of both Tony Conrad's The Flicker and Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (or does it?). Anyway, this curiously titled programme used these two cinematic landmarks as pints of departure, with varying results.
Ian White's recitation/performance Ibiza: a reading for "The Flicker" quite cleverly commenced with a narration about a young British gay man's not unusual but initially quite promising weekend in Ibiza, with no strings attached and all the right elements in place. Well, actually the right elements were not in place and there were strings attached, but things did happen anyway. Specifically, The Flicker kicked in, its projection motorik almost completely obscuring the not unamusing narrative. The Flicker, that behemoth of modernist (and assumedly straight) experimental cinema. No drama, no plot, no images except incessant and increasing flickering white on black screen. Most Images denizens presumably know the one. But not in this context, they don't. The Flicker begins with a warning to epileptic viewers and others with medical issues and/or limitations
(potentially compromised immune systems) to think carefully before proceeding further. Only then does the fun begin - and The Flicker does get faster and faster but it starts off pretty intense to begin with. Ian White has accomplished nothing less that sexualizing
(or re-sexualizing) flicker movies and modernist experimentalism, and I say Hallelujah. After The Flicker concludes, White then leans back at is light table and reciting lists from Internet gay male personals. These are lists of all those not wanted - undesirables rather than desirables. And they are personals, so they are specific. No femmes, no fats, no drama queens, no druggies, no Asians, no blacks, no drag queens. No no no no. Every three or four negatives he kicks an erect beer bottle over and then restores it to erect position. One is down, and then up again. These negative personals are oppositional to the consent involved in both watching and doing the flicker, and I am all for consenting pleasure.
Ian White's not-so-wild Ibiza sojourn was followed by Althea Thauberger's re-signing or re-working of Warhol's double-framed Chelsea Girls. The Factory demi-monde has here been transferred to a Victoria (BC) social-housing complex - into that very grey area between social realism and soap-opera. It has been a while since I have viewed the original, so other audience members had the advantage of comparing maker's and re-maker's structural parallels and departures. Despite a few moments where I could recognize visual and structural dialogue between left and right pictures and/or sequences, I found the exercise pointless and numbing. I did think of boundaries between acting and non-acting, and also questions of agency among the filmed or documented - I thought of the seme eternal questions pertinent to, say, Donigan Cumming or Larry Clark or countless others. But Cumming's videos and photographs are far tighter formally - Thauberger's stock was (presumably intentionally)blurry and not very sharp. Countless artists have played with parallels between documentary and performance - it's hardly a revelation that Warhol was a documentarian.
On the festival's closing night, Images presented two mixed-media works involving live and pre-recorded performance, live and pre-recorded music, and projected images. (and, with the second ensemble, a whole lot more). This closing presentation was almost sold-out due to prior ticket sales - the event was marketed by its co-sponsors the musical Wavelength series. The first of the two presentations was by far the weaker. The Toronto-based Ammo Factory Group (an experimental theatre collective) presented a barely-dramatized scenario involving a musician whose life quite literally becomes taken over by the narrative of a film to which he is overdubbing sound and voice. The musician becomes a sort of walking virus, one could say. This piece, actually titled The Voice Over, struck me as occupying a peculiar middle ground between American Idol and Alain Robbe-Grillet - it contained a pseudo-stylized linguistic repetition of scenarios or situations but without any bite - let alone wit.
The second act - the L.A. based Cloud Eye Control - was both far more spectacular and way more ambitious. Cloud Eye Control offered three pieces - Final Space and Subterranean Heart - sandwiched group member Miwa Matreyek's solo-piece Dreaming of Lucid Living. This very talented ensemble mixed projection (how many screens, and where now a screen?), choreography, animation, and some quite okay music. Final Space was breathtaking, after Ammo Factory and after the necessary waiting. Its mechanics were obvious but that precision was part of the appeal. The second and third pieces were also impressive but lacking the initial impact. And I did find myself getting put off by a certain New Ageneses - I found myself being reminded of eighties new-media spectacles in which Reflexivity had been banished. In Dreaming of Lucid Living, there was no acknowledgement that not all dreams are good. Well, sorry my dear, but there have always been nightmares - well before Freud and possibly earlier than Poverty. But Cloud Eye Control's techno-utopianism was loaded with eye-candy, and I was refreshed by the presence of an ensemble that both needed and loved to be simultaneously live and operating their machinery. This ensemble managed to overcame my general scepticism about live presentations which re-present what has already been presented and is therefore redundant.
In my fourth blog for Images 2009, I recounted Live Images Event Number Four, which was Ben Cooley's Power Point presentation Talking Points and Talking Ponies. Coonley comically attempted to apply structuralist apparatus-determinants to Digitalia and would up somewhere between Death of the Author and The Lunatic Machines are Taking Over the Asylum. Well, Live Images Number Five "democratized" the Digital Apparatus even further. I was keen to take in Hanne Mugaas' and Cory Arcangel's Art Since 1950 (According to the Internet). I, like many, believe that The Internet and its electronic systems have indeed effected definitions of art object and/or exchange and who exactly is an artist. But... one can only be so slack and get away with it. One can only be so offhandedly disorganized without simply losing interest. And Arcangel (Mugaas was the technician, or the brains?) did not sustain my interest. Even my dead cat knows that seminal art events (emphasis on body artists such as Chris Burden and Bruce Naumann) are endlessly "re-made" by You Tube pranksters. The 22nd Images Festival had already established that original prints were destined to become copies of copies and therefore what exactly is an original anyway. Animal events loosely parallel to cinematic moments do not cut the mustard, and so on and so on and so on. When somebody stands in front of an audience and informs an audience that this is their third presentation of this lecture cum performance and - guess what - the first two presentations were disasters; that somebody lowers expectations and had better be pretty on top of his or her game if they intend to recover those expectations. But Mugaas' and Arcangel's presentation and aesthetic has nothing to do with recovering or re-examining anything - it is about detritus and general flotsam. Nothing more and nothing less. Over and out.