Sunday, January 28, 2007

from Laurel Harris (Correspondence)


If history, defined by its factuality, its extra-aesthetic relevance, imposes (or, perhaps, presupposes?) on the “mythopoetic” seal of Barney’s films, is this interruption a violent break? What kind of interpretation does it bring to the closed and total world of the films? Does it make the films, despite themselves, allegories of their world (to use Jameson’s language)? Furthermore, where is history’s interruption located--in the text, in the spectator, in a collision or collusion of cinematic and extra-cinematic histories and horizons?

I haven’t seen _Drawing Restraint_ yet, but I can’t help but wonder if the awkwardness of “appropriation” in the film is not only cultural, but might also lie in pointing to the problem of labor and work itself. In the preview I saw for the film, the Japanese ship captain comments on one of Barney’s more practically insane spectacles, only to shrug it off with a kind of helpless indulgence, adding that he knows nothing about art. In this film, it seems, you have the art works, the artist at work, and those whose labor is more “everyday,” the traditional worker, for lack of a better term, at work, and possibly this work coincides and does not coincide?

This representation of work itself might be a point of strange resemblance with Vertov’s Soviet film. What you have in these frames is a reflection, for Vertov in _Kino-Eye_, of cinema as a productive labor of socialist society. What is produced? A new way of seeing? Social and aesthetic possibility represented by the trope, as Annette Michelson says, of revolution as a literal revolving, as of machine parts, as of the camera itself? Is this the “total process” as, paradoxically, a means of reconstruction rather than an end in itself? And in the almost hypercapitalist counterpoint of Barney’s films, in which this “total process” might be cast as ends not means in this reduction I’m making, does the responsibility for reconstruction, an interpenetration of history and its reflection perhaps, then shift from the man with the movie camera to the spectator herself?

Siegfried Krakauer claims that film reveals through recording, but, because of what you could call an “ontology of images,” this revelation is also a dissimulation in relation to a lived world. Film becomes a self-justifying record defined by and outside of a precise identity between an image and its impressed object. What happens, I wonder, when the visual historical archive becomes film’s content, becomes aestheticized beyond its initial intent? I’m very interested in the Italian filmmakers Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci’s work with archival material from World War I in this regard. They’ve restored war images from archives throughout Europe and aestheticized this archive, so to speak, through hand tinting and an original score. Reference is made to the original location, but the images themselves are inscrutable. For example, we see prisoners in an Austrian camp at work--men sewing, baking bread, butchering, dancing together, building carts. The images form a semblance, a viewpoint which is ultimately an anti-war warning, or even parable, according to the filmmakers’ intent. Yet, where does this inscrutability, this illegibility even, come from? Is there something in every image that won’t be given up, and how might this affect an idea of “total process”? Would it depend on the angle of perspective as to whether such an inscrutable historical kernal were the justification or undoing of this self-becoming and self-making?
~ Laurel Harris

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