Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Video art" and "Gallery films".

Jesper Just at James Cohan. Neither of the videos are excerpted on line. Below are two earlier works.

Douglas Gordon at Gagosian

Richard Phillips also at Gagosian

The Phillips exhibition is an embarrassment and the films are the worst of it. The one above is one of two with Lindsay Lohan.  The second one is more complex but lists a "co-director" in the credits and was edited by Jay Rabinowitz.

Specific criticism of the Gordon installation would be that the timing of the videos should be staggered. The piece is architectural theater; the narrative is both rudimentary and a given. Since few people are going to sit through the whole thing -and since it wasn't made for  them to do it- the audience should be able to take in the process as a whole, to be able walk in and see the piano in all the stages of combustion.

Just's This Nameless Spectacle is called a "two-channel" video, a standard trope. Gordon's work is called alternately a "three screen video installation" or a "film installation".

This Nameless Spectacle works architecturally and theatrically because we're placed literally between the protagonists, since the two films of the same events are projected on opposite walls. The film in the show, like the others shown above, are "single-channel": they're films projected for a standing audience.

All the above are or are claimed to be products of the linguistic and social context of "fine art".  Over the past 20 years this has come to mean works most often are projected in large scale in darkened rooms without seating. As an extension of earlier "video art", the relations of images and objects, people and things take precedence.  In their beginnings "video art" and "performance art" were descriptions of theater in the language of painting and sculpture.  As in what became known as "post-modern" dance, actions and gestures were prosaic; choreographers eschewed the self-consciously poetic as previously they'd eschewed narrative.  Often this was less narrative than the idea of narrative: a record of motion from point A to point B; the most famous example in dance is Yvonne Rainer's Trio A.  Warhol's films are another prime example, but like Rainer's most famous piece they're more than what was claimed for them at the time, in Rainer's case by Rainer herself. The larger piece of which Trio A is a part carries its ideology in its title. If the mind is a muscle, then craft can be replaced by reason. Rainer's later career as an artist and filmmaker for a small but very serious audience is almost archetypical for late modernist romance with technocracy, but Trio A itself as performed by Rainer is consistently engaging as performance. Try as she might she couldn't unlearn her training as a dancer.

Other works from the period used narrative with what was considered ironic detachment, either through montage that undermined the narrative or by the simple gesture equivalent of looking behind the curtain: turning a CRT monitor on its side, the result being "video sculpture". Narrative crept back obliquely into object making proper and that was attacked by Michael Fried,  a protege of Greenberg, in his essay Art and Objecthood not even for the result being an immature art but absurdly and predictably for it being literally wrong. Greenberg by this time was defending formalist kitsch, while Nam June Paik owed a lot to Ernie Kovacs. There's a book in that one sentence.

You can watch a sample of Trio A at Video Data Bank. Here's the link to the collection of early video art at the same source. Look at the pricing below each video, and pay attention to the tags. The language of high seriousness, and often of high politics, and the opposite of open data.

In the context of Modernism in "art" what wasn't poetic was considered less prosaic than banal. In the beginnings of the return to narrative any reference to time was felt to be enough to do the job, to piss-off the old man. But now art galleries have become "art houses" showing "art films" that outdo the venues and films those phrases once referred to. From awkward forms and awkward narratives, now everything's poeticized. The secret's that it always was. It's not the the older work wasn't artsy, but that artsiness has gotten slicker. "Art" has gone from one kind of snobbery to another.
That's not to say that none of the above is any good, but that much of it is oversold, always by the marketing and often in the work itself. And again, the Richard Phillips show is a joke.
[continued here]

For more on the permutations of language and "sculpture" start here. Working back more slowly start here. Or see "The Pictures Generation" and the follow-up.

Pierre Huyghe
Rirkrit Tiravanija and Christian Marclay
Huyghe and Steve McQueen

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