Saturday, April 15, 2006

VJ Researchers Movin' On

In his “Nontheatrical Performance” essay, Allan Kaprow, who recently passed away, makes an interesting case for the artist as researcher:
[…] suppose that performance artists were to adopt the emphasis of universities and think tanks on basic research. Performance would be conceived as inquiry. It would reflect the word’s everyday meaning of performing a job or service and would relieve the artist of inspirational metaphors, such as creativity, that are tacitly associated with making art, and therefore theatre art.
Kaprow left us less than four months after Nam June Paik passed away, and for some reason I am reminded of the first VJ show back in 1970, coming out of WGBH in Boston, where Paik, who the year before had exhibited video art on the series of PBS broadcasts called "The Medium Is The Medium" along with Kaprow and a few others, started performing his live, fluxus-styled VJ set over the live wire. Paik inaugurated this first VJ scene in Boston with his massive and unkempt Synthesizer, which I recently saw again at the Kunsthalle Bremen as part of the 40 Years of German Video Art exhibition.

Others soon followed and built on these early VJ experiments, including my Sydney friend Stephen Jones, ex-member of the 1980s Aussie VJ-band The Severed Heads.

They're still around - here.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Shadowy Figures

As part of the Shadow Government for the past few years, I have been the main speechwriter for Abe Golam, who in 2004 ran for President of the United States with the Experimental Party.

Although Golam is considering another run in 08, and has expressed interest in becoming our nation's Avatar-In-Chief, I am not sure I will have time to script his behaviors and feed him the necessery rhetoric he will need to have a shot at igniting the populace around his third party candidacy.

For those who care about such things, here I am in the offices of the Shadow Government during one of my rare appearances in Washington DC.

[picture taken with mobile phone by anonymous staff intern]

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

In the Realm of the Viewer

Way back in 1986, 20 years ago, I was stuck in Mexico City dying for air. Arguably the most polluted city in the world at that time, it was just after the late 1985 earthquake and the dust from all of the collapsed buildings was making the breathing problems worse. I was hiding out in elitist cafes in the Zona Rosa writing the first draft of what would eventually become my first novel, but needed to find another outlet, a different scene. Leaving the city would take a day or two, and things were getting desperate, but I got lucky, and ended up finding an arthouse cinema that was playing a film I had never heard of at the time, In the Realm of the Senses.

This was the perfect hiding place for both my body and mind to seek refuge in. Oshima's dark, erotic masterpiece played before me in Japanese with Spanish subtitles and it was there that I sat through it three times in a row and learned to love foreign films without ever truly knowing what was being spoken.

I have since seen the film once, with English subtitles, in New York, and to my total surprise, came across it again while channel surfing late at night in Berlin last week. I caught the film about halfway through and then, after about 15 minutes of watching it (and feeling lucky to have caught it, even though it was dubbed into German and I had cut off the sound so that I could see it like I did in Mexico City without any English accompaniment whatsoever), a scene ended and the screen immediately cut to a contemporary porn commercial for phone sex with buxom, blond German girls spreading their legs for me while licking their very limber bodies and, when doubling up, each other. After 3-5 minutes of porn ads, it went back to Oshima's arthouse film.

This reminds me of something that erotic film and video artists must consider when making their art work today, especially given the variety of distribution outlets at our disposal. Who, really, is the best audience for such work? The arthouse crowd? The "experimental" Netflix viewer who has got you in their queue? The technomadic consumers at the Apple iTunes store? Why not the adult channel crowd? Maybe the best erotic art is most appreciated by the voyeurs, the fetishists, the perverts, the horny ones. But then again, there could plenty of crossover with the arthouse crowd in all of those categories, so maybe it's just a matter of horizontally integrating of all of the right niche markets into a viable whole. This is something my old Professor-mentor Alain Robbe-Grillet had to contend with as well, especially with his classic film Glissements progressifs du plaisir, aka Successive Slidings of Pleasure.

Today, art and spam occasionally have to find ways to work together when necessary. Our brains are constantly getting rid of information to make room for what we personally find most valuable, and as Paik has said,
"[t]he culture that's going to survive in the future is the culture that you can carry around in your head."
If only you could see what's going through mine right now...

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Benjaminian Blogstyle

Walter Benjamin was a blogger, remixologist, hypertextualist, and theoretical performer before any these terms saw the light of day. Back in the first half of the 20th century, when he was on fire with the discovery of what would eventually become critical theory, he was sampling and remixing all manner of images, texts, diagrams, poetry, etc. His Arcades project, which after years of anticipation is now available in English, could be viewed as the first significant precursor to theoretical performance in wild blogstyle. I first got turned on to this project and its "theory-as-performance" implications about 20 years ago when I read Susan Buck-Morss' "The Dialectics of Seeing" - a title I liked so much that I used it as one of the section titles to my CODEWORK installation now in the Denver Art Museum collection.

If I were to summon the spirit of Benjamin today, just for kicks, I would match up the following quote with the attached image as a way to keep the flow of my own theory performance going:

...if I specialize in a medium, then I would be fixing a ground for myself, a ground I would have to be digging myself out of, constantly, as one medium was substituted for another - so, then instead of turning toward 'ground' I would shift my attention and turn to 'instrument,' I would focus on myself as the instrument that acted on whatever ground was available.

Vito Acconci - "Steps Into Performance (And Out)"

UPDATE: The image above is from the last of three panels of a large offset lithograph by Robert Rauschenberg from 1968 titled Autobiography. This lower panel is represented by an enlarged photograph of Rauschenberg during his 1963 performance "Pelican," in which he wears rollerskates and a parachute on a wooden armature harnessed to his back. Rauschenberg was one of several performers and he also choreographed this performance. The work was commissioned by Alice Denney who also, as the US Vice-Commissioner, invited Rauschenberg, along with Jasper Johns, to represent the USA at the Venice Biennial in 1964, where Rauschenberg went on to win The Grand Prize. Here in Washington DC as a visiting artist tonight, I was lucky enough to have dinner with the 83-year-old Alice at her fascinating house-cum-gallery. She had some great stories to tell about Bob and all of the other artists who passed through and stayed in her home. More of these stories (in the same vein as my Nam June Paik stories), to come soon...including insights into the big DADA show at the National Gallery of Art and how I will now collaborate with my DC host Randall Packer in the first-ever performance art work in the National Gallery to take place as part of this same DADA exhibition on May 6th...)

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