Controlled Environments 33:45 minutes 1994
A series of seven telephone conversations between arts bureaucrats A and B-both played by Andrew J. Paterson. The conversations-all taking place within the confines of their respective apartments-concern cultural/philosophical questions such as whether or not propaganda can be art, whether or not anarchy is a euphemism for capitalism, whether or not entertainers are public servants, and other contentious issues of discourse. The mediatory nature of the telephone also allows for certain discrepancies between A's and B's words and actions.
This tape overwhelmingly deploys a split-screen format, as it consists of seven telephone conversations between two cultural or arts-bureaucrats, both portrayed by myself. In a few spots throughout the tape, the split-frame format is stretched, with one bureaucrat being privileged over the other. Bureaucrats A and B alternate frame-sides with each titled conversation. The seven titles, announced episodically on top of a theatrical curtain, are: Memory, Audience, Acting, Propaganda, Etiquette, Anarchy, and Resignation. The two bureaucrats argue quite vehemently and only occasionally agree, but they are nevertheless extremely symbiotic.
Controlled Environments is of course a self-portrait of an artist negotiating and parroting/parodying the languages of the bureaucrats, on whom he is hopelessly dependent. The bureaucrats are themselves dependent upon the artists with their applications and their grievances. This is the first tape I have ever made with the self-conversation format. Cash and Carry (1999) uses a similar format, as does a self-conversational published piece written for the anthology Suggestive Poses: Artists and Critics Respond to Censorship (Gallery TPW/Riverbank Press, 1997) Antecedents for the odd couple could include Warhol's A and B, General Idea's AA and Felix in Test Tube and Shut the Fuck Up, and Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. Colin Campbell's Janus is probably another influence here. Controlled Environments departs from earlier portrait/performative video (Campbell, Lisa Steele) in that there is a camera-operator (Michael Balser), and, in one brief segment, the camera is hand-held.
I was once interviewed about this tape (unpublished by XTRA) by a reporter who asked me how much longer I was going to remain a cultural bureaucrat, paraphrasing the tape's final episodic dialogue. I was quite amused by the assumption that all those with any familiarity with bureaucratic language, not to mention access to the granting systems, must themselves be bureaucrats. But I am aware that this is a rather widespread assumption.