Friday, November 02, 2007

Delay in Glass Enacted

Tony Conrad *Window Enactment* Greene-Naftali Gallery October 30th

Tony Conrad is perhaps best know for his film *The Flicker* and his seminal contributions to early Minimalist music in the 60’s, and less well know for his work in visual art performance. His recent showings at Greene-Naftali gallery prove the tides are changing for Conrad as his entire career is being taken better into account by art critics, historians and fans alike. Since a seminar I took with Conrad at the University of Buffalo and through my encounters with Tony while living in Buffalo I have known him to be a consummate performer, if not principally performative, since 2001. Conrad’s singular personality, his mischievous and careful control of performance details, place him as a performer foremost before his formidable achievements as a musician and time-based media artist.

Conrad’s performance at Greene-Naftali, *Window Enactment*, left many in the audience seemingly baffled as to what he was up to. My own reception of the performance is conditioned by the fact that I could not see much of what was being “enacted” as it could only be viewed through a relatively small window set in a corner of the spacious and open gallery. As I consider other performances I’ve witnessed by Conrad, I don’t doubt it was his point to frustrate an audience’s view of the performance and thus their overall reception of the work.

The performance began with a projected video image of a house set-construction with a single window set within its edifice. This video played for an unusually long duration (five minutes or so) preempting frustration among many in the audience who sat and stood in anticipation of what would eventually occur. I suspect this video image, clearly a reproduction of a Super 8 film, was shot in the 70’s as the press release to *Window Enactment* places the work’s composition somewhere between 1970 (with a parenthesized question mark following the date) and 2007. So *Window Enactment* is something long in the making—a delay in (literal) glass—like many of Conrad’s projects which he has only recently taken up again after renewed interest in his career.

Following the projection were a series of scenes, tableaus and performance-‘events' whose only unifying logic seemed to be a meta-critical view of aesthetic participation, pleasure and spectatorship: what is seen and what can’t be seen, who sees who (through the window), what is called to attention as exhaustive (and thereby ironic) banality, and what as titillating perversion, exhibition, scopophilia, fetish, ambiguous ambient presence. The fact that the audience should view the performance enacted through a window seems both allegorical and effective, the window establishing a private space for the viewer to peer *into* and for the performers to see *out of*, watching the audience with binoculars at one point and by various other voyeuristic means at others. Regardless a panoptical ('two-way') gaze was heavily in play throughout the performance foregrounding the window itself in its obtrusive, mediating character.

Much of what I could see from my vantage in the gallery were naked bodies performing simple domestic tasks like setting and clearing a dining table, dressing and undressing, watching television, playing LPs, turning off and on lights, and having basic conversations by cell phone. Discerning some of the cell conversations (for example, “I can’t come right now ‘cause I can’t go right now ‘cause I am stuck right now. Why don’t you come over?...” I was struck by their utter banality; the performers would talk about what they ate for lunch that day and other small-talk in between heavy breathing and sexual innuendo. Some of the tableaus reminded me of the work of Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelly with whom Conrad has collaborated throughout his career, and notably before Kelly and McCarthy were the art world figures they are today. I was also reminded of the kitsch of Jack Smith for whom Conrad assisted on sound for Smith’s ‘underground’ classic *Flaming Creatures*, as well as George Kuchar and Abigail Child whose films and videos involve melodrama and kitsch similarly.

In Conrad’s performances an air of mystery and fascination is consistently over-determined by perverse behaviorist experiment. As soon as the audience has sunk with the performers to an extreme level of boredom Conrad will put on a light show with flash or “clapper” lights—post-psychedelic era “eye-candy”— or hold a nude Minimalist chamber concert to recall the audience’s active interest. Here there is a dialectic between the anesthetizing quotidian as it exhausts the viewer, and the spectacular wondrous as it maintains the viewer’s curiosity forcing the more patient viewer (more than half the audience cleared out before the performance was finished including many I know to be sympathetic with Conrad’s work) to continue attending the performance.

Conrad is for me a perverted performance artist who yet raises many exigent and critical questions about the relationship between audience and performer/artist as they embody problems of power, and visual-sonic empowerment especially, in post-Modern Western culture. That I could not see much of what went on finally during the performance (however I did sneak closer and closer to the most advantageous perspective before the window as much of the audience with the choicest seating cleared out) and therefore report ‘accurately’ on ‘what happened’ seems par for the course with much of Conrad’s performance work as the work deliberately underscores the relationship between performers, audience and artist-performer-director. As one gathers from much of the sound and visuals of *Window Enactment*, Conrad is also a master in control of his craft who knows how to deliver the beautiful, exquisite and frenetic in respite, if not respect, to his audience’s frustrated attention.

Thom Donovan

Thursday, November 01, 2007

EMERGENCY benefit for Will Alexander (Ad)

Dear Friends in Poetry, in Life
Poet and artist Will Alexander has become seriously ill. He has no
health insurance. In order to help him defray the cost of treatment,
poets will gather and read Will’s work as well as poems for Will. If
you can't attend the reading below, please make a donation to Will
Alexander --he really needs the help of myriad communities right now.
(His mailing address is W. Alexander/ 400 South Lafayette Park Place,
#307/ Los Angeles, CA 90057.) Will is one of our GREAT/most singular
poets and thinkers. I understand that this is a time when many feel
"heavy burdened" but ... Please help if you can. Feel free (and in fact
feel encouraged) to forward this or post on your blogs, lists, groups
of friends who will help.
love and much,
Tonya Foster

308 Bowery / F to 2nd Ave, or 6 to Bleecker
$10 suggested donation, more if you can


(and more tba)


I will be blogging for Performa07 visual arts performance biennial this month...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Exploitation is for Kids (& Dogs)

Nathalie Djurberg's *Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs)* at the Zipper Factory, Oct. 28th

The pervasive cleverness and craft of Nathalie Djurberg’s ‘Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs)’ lies in the continuous play between a non-live claymation video and live-soundtrack performed simultaneously with the projection of the video, and synched at times loosely with the video’s visual-narrative content: down-and–out children warring Untouchables-style with a pack of dogs over scraps of food and other dejected objects eventually to be given medical treatment and chow after the ‘war’. The inconstant delay between pre-made visual and live sound elements offers a satisfying game for an audience to play. The sound of dogs sniffing each other’s asses is seen and heard while viewing the video, then one looks down to Djurberg and fellow performers on stage before the video and sees one of the performers rubbing a pencil against a notepad (the sound of sniffing!). The sound of grenade explosions are offered by an aerosol-paint stenciled bass drum being struck with a mallet, and gunfire by one of the performers rapidly tapping their finger-tips against the contacts of a mixing board. When often there are images of gore and wounding the accompanying sound effects are provided by the squeezing of a ketchup bottle onto the stage by Djurberg herself.

As in children’s toys and media ‘Untitled’’s spectator gains pleasure from the tactility of the object of their attention—there is a remarkable visual tactility about claymation, a medium of children’s entertainment typically—as well as from the concomitant observation of the way something being seen and heard is constructed. Operative is the old dyad mimesis and diegesis whence the active attention must negotiate the realities of a living and performed present with multiple levels of representation (sound effects, drum and bass soundtrack, and purely playful performance actions—a head is bandaged or a back scratched in ‘real time’ redoubling the action in the video).

The fun of such ‘figuring out’—the revelatory art of producing the *mise-en-scene* *and* the representative object for the audience in tandem—is both complemented and disrupted by the video’s content, as it presents a cartoonish violence not unlike that of typical cartoons (Tom and Jerry) or recent parodies of them (The Simpson’s Itchy and Scratch) if only, as ‘Untitled’’s press release reads, to provide a litany of abject “twists” on the “innocuous” medium. That the video’s narrative features a “war” taking place between the triply marginalized—homeless animals and children of color—gives pause. The extreme visual and aural pleasures of the video and live soundtrack are always in relation (and troubled by) the fact of the work’s narrative content: figures (however fashioned by brightly colored clay) doing tremendous harm to one another (however ‘unrealistically’) eventually to be sutured, put ‘back-together’, and convalesced by light-skinned, human nurses with uniformly skinny, big-breasted bodies and puffy multi-colored hair.

In the end perhaps ‘Untitled’ takes most after 60 ‘s and 70’s exploitation cinemas in their various tactical deployments of socio-economic and racial stereotypes, and displays of brute force (however senseless much of ‘Untitled’s’ violence seems opposed to the complexities of much exploitation cinema). Beyond Tom and Jerry et al, ‘Untitled’ specifically recalled for me the Fat Albert cartoons of my youth in their own abject tweakings and telling slant of the children’s cartoon genre post-Blaxploitation and in lieu of what I sensed were Djurberg’s unique problems: how to maintain visual-aural pleasure and social critique in constant, yet dislocated, relation; how, what’s more, to interrogate the innocence of children’s entertainment in relation to adult decisions, effects, results, consequences; how, finally, to embody these problems through the formal involvement of live and non-live elements.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some Intentions of the Photograph ~ after Lee Friedlander (II)

Lines (like thresholds) | thick
And blocking (something) not
Just the view } { essential the via
Negativa__of (all) things__material

No-other-world can pass-thru
A phenomenology* for them (I)

Still haven’t figured out the
Rooftop >> how (it) looks so dark
And everything else those fish-
es frozen/stonework << so light.

*and them.