Carousel Microcinema #2:Color. Labor. Phenomenology.

2009 was very hard for many people. Here in California, there was a lot of loss, and lot of anxiety, and a lot of disappointing decisions made by the people we’ve elected to lead us. The constant news coverage on job-hunting, career make-overs, and all the soul searching that goes along with the collapse of order in our lives, sent me thinking about the different strategies that artists use to talk about work, labor, and what it means to have a job, and do a job. (Donegan) I began stumbling upon new videos and remembering older films  in which color is a consistent  tool applied to expressing these concerns.  Given the horrible aesthetics  that surround most people when they work, I had to wonder why that was? What is it about labor that requires the hyper-expressivity of color to materialize the interiority of our work lives? What tactics do institutions employ to describe and conscribe our identities as workers? What do we believe about work? How do we feel about color? Why do we feel at all when we confront colors? What happens when the identities that we build for ourselves around our jobs are shattered? (Alexander) Without work, what are we left with? What do we believe in?

Teaching is my job. Filmmaking is my work. As the years go by, I can feel the two merging into one harmonious instrument. But for right now, that’s how it is.  This winter quarter, I’ve got two great courses. Both of them require modifications to the standard configuration of a classroom. In both of the rooms that I use to do my job, some startling decisions have been made regarding the application and appointment of color. In the theory and production class, we analyze films and make them too. Good projection is expensive, so my students sit in a cramped beige TV control room. At UCSD, cinema really is dead. The best way to watch movies on our campus is on an HDTV. The control room is designed for people who do their work in the dark. And yet the walls are not painted black, blue, purple or even brown. They are  painted dark beige. The  institutional adaptation – the best they can do to accommodate people who do their work in the dark- is dark beige. In my scripting class, art students settle into the craft of writing for a quarter.  We drag the chair-desk contraptions that schools like to impose upon the bodies of young people into a circle. The configuration of a campfire makes it easier to hear the criticism and receive the praise we offer each other while surrounded by beige-walls and tan-carpet. Within institutions we insist on relegating color to the mundane rather than the phenomenological. We treat the spectrum reflected by surrounding surfaces with the same contempt applied to the people who pick our strawberries (O’Hara), and the mountains we top-off to mine their hidden veins of coal (Bress). And yet we very forcefully purge color from the arenas over which we hope to exert and maintain complete control (Moyes).

(Nordine)

But on the flip, we also use color to express the potency of our power. Don’t we? (I know what red lipstick means. And I know what black ties mean. (Newkirk) I can get a beat on tight blue T-shirts with marigold helvetica silkscreened on the back, and I recognize yellow ribbons tied in oak trees.  But really. How am I to interpret the fact  that academic institutions express the potency of their power via beige and eggshell white?) Power. Color. The Body. What is a little girl to believe when she is told that her favorite color is and must be pink and purple? What if she secretly loves green? I suppose she gets the message somewhere inside of herself that she is failing her training – the same way my students do when they ignore my assignment to explore some visual whimsy of their own derivation.  Reject your assigned spectrum and fail your training.  Control. (Roberts)

The classroom is one of these sites of extreme control. The beiges, the puttys, the taupes, the tans, and the plaster whites of public institutional decor send me a very potent warning from The Institution/Corporation that the most important aspect of my job is the exertion of control.

The duty of a teacher is to control a mind, not to unleash it? What color would a classroom be if my job were to free minds rather than control them? Violet? Vermillion? Cyan? (Neuman) I am certain that any of these colors would certainly have an invigorating effect on my 9:30am grouping twenty-two year olds – even if the effect was to provoke complaints about the overbearing effect of such expressiveness on their bleary, sleep-deprived eyes.

Apparently tax payers are less ambivalent about spending their tax dollars on controlling bodies than they are on controlling minds. California prison guards are paid more to cage souls than I am to imprint them. The guards enjoy membership in a union that managed to protect them from the pay cuts (the California state worker tax) that we controllers of the mind currently endure.  California spends, on average, $9000 educating sixth graders in public school. California spends, on average, $25,000, caging adult male prisoners. This  tidbit of information actually has very little to do with the collection of videos I’ve assembled, but a lot to do with why I want to begin the year meditating on labor, color, and phenomenology. What is the color of “THIS CANNOT CONTINUE”? Somehow, I don’t think it’s red….

Can you see me? Apparently blue is the new black. But again, I digress.

I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who works as a prison guard. I would very much like to know how similar their control rooms are to mine. Do they have dark beige walls too? Do they sometimes ponder the futility of caging a body and neglecting a mind? I wager they do. Corporate prisons and public universities agree that we (teachers and guards) can control through color. But prison guards operate within a swirl of bound bodies clad in bright orange. Think about this: the application of  the color orange demarcates the controller from the controlled. Each prisoner  a spark. A flame deprived of oxygen;  but ready, no doubt, to ignite….or dissolve. Just like my students.


We show up. We generate ideas. We complete tasks. (Baldesarri) We assemble, collect, analyze, or mechanize.  We decide the depth of commitment to be applied,  the integrity to be maintained, the degree to which our dignity is connected to our ability to do a thing well, do a thing mindfully.  We show up. We work. We watch over.  We day dream. We escape. We struggle. We sweat. We slack. We may not get to decide the color of the backdrop behind our bodies. No one sees the color of the backdrops in our minds; but those colors are there and they effect. They produce affect. Colors go deep inside of us, and then come out again as something else, something intellectualized, something reduced, named, and categorized. We are assigned our little place on the social spectrum. Moving across it will most likely cost us something.

So. The  performances, animations, music videos, and dimensional video paintings, fantastical stories, and whimsical video documents in this program  ask us to look at the body, consider color, and consider what it is means to do your work, hold your place, and manage to remain a human being with a body, and a mind that projects its own spectrum into the world every day. Can you feel me?

I’ll be talking about each work individually.  Please do check back in a week to read more about the films/videos that will screen on Wednesday, January 27 at 7pm, in North Park, SD.

Peace.

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About cauleen

Cauleen Smith is a native Californian who has had the privilege of living in Austin, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, Emeryville, and San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles in California. She finds herself now happily settled in Chicago, IL where she makes stuff with an emphasis on the moving image, sound, and outer space.
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2 Responses to Carousel Microcinema #2:Color. Labor. Phenomenology.

  1. Justin says:

    What a fantastic post. Would that I had the eloquence to respond with anything except to say: I feel you, on all wavelengths seen and unseen.

    I’m so looking forward to this and every other screening. Thank you for your work!

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