CAROUSEL #02: Program Notes

Every Color (after Malevich), 2008.
Computer database animation. Six point five days.

Andy Doro’s Every Color (after Malevich) will greet you upon entry, dear microcineaste, on this Wednesday January, 27 2010 evening. The piece has a duration of six and a half days. Doro asks a computer to do the work of displaying almost seventeen million colors; and as it does so, our relationship to the image shifts and wavers. We recognize Malevich. Doro claims that eighteen minutes into the processing Malevich’s Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions (1915) should appear; and that the processing ends by replicating The Black Square (1913).

Frame capture from Andy Doro's "Every Color (after Malevich)"

We also recognize the isolation of a single pixel manifesting its own selfhood in every possible iteration. This piece reminds us of what we know, and forget to know, as well as revealing the nature of the tools we use to do our work.  The utility of a thing (in this case, the rapid methodical processing of data) is not the reason the thing (the computer) was created. The desire to make something happen that has not happened before (comprehension and control over masses of data) is what willed the thing into being. In the lower left hand corner a counter marks colors in sets of eight, ticking away as the square inside its white frame makes its way toward Malevich’s expressive black cube. The computing-machine’s humble task is a willful and life-affirming gesture.  Malevich’s Suprematism Manifesto says:
“Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without “things” (that is, the “time tested well spring of life”). But the nature and meaning of artistic creation continues to be misunderstood, as does the nature of creative work in general, because feeling, after all, is always and everywhere the one and only source of every creation.

Coral, Beige, Nutria, Azure. From the COLORS Album. 1966.
01:30+/-. Asphodel Records.

Work and Art.  Ken Nordine’s voice earns him his bread and activates his poems.  In 1966, a madman ad exec, by the name of  Bob Pritkin helped pull that voice into the world of advertising when he commissioned Nordine to compose odes to nine colors and the spectrum to help sell house paint. Nordine’s savory, canorous voice began each poem with the obligatory introduction, “The Fuller Paint Company invites you to stare with your ears at…”, then he proceeded to convince radio listeners of the urgency of committing their walls to shades of  green, lavender, or orange. The Color Poems did so much more than their job. The jingles were so popular that listeners would call into stations requesting that they be played again. Nordine eventually wrote and recorded enough color poems for a an LP.

Poet, Ken Nordine

For Nordine, colors were companions, adversaries, institutions, and ironic protests. He put color to work in the service of allegorical cautions, sensual probes, social accusations, and sensitive observations that ask us to listen real close to what human beings really look like and the decide for ourselves, what we believe in.

Line. 1996. Video. 14:15

Donegan employs the cinematic-syntax and character-quests from Godard’s most conventional film, Le Mépris, to probe the gesture of the “zip” in the paintings of her own Homer, Barnett Newman.

Framegrab from LINE by Cheryl Donegan

In Le Mépris, Paul (M. Piccoli) attempts to adapt The Odyssey to film for a philistine American producer brilliantly played by Jack Palance. The Godard film is about a writer at work, a marriage failing to work; and the ways in which the success of both depends on the resisting temptation and being attentive to the little things. In her video, Line, Donegan plays  both the wife, Camille (B. Bardot), and the writer, Paul . But it is a spectrum-colored “zip” which divides Donegan’s video frame that demands the characters’ attention. Barnett Newman, is in many respects a much more formidable father figure that Paul’s Homer. Unlike Homer,  we know a great deal about Newman. His biographies never fail to mention that his wife supported his painting for seventeen years by working as a schoolteacher. This fact in and of itself is probably not unique. Many artists might privately admit that they are carried by their spouses. What is unique is Newman’s consistency in making this known. Without the labor of his wife, there would have been no “zip”. Newman, apparently, was a man who was dedicated to his work and respected, not just appreciated, the labor of his wife as well.  Line, uses Godard’s anemic protest against commercialism,  to reveal the formidability of a gesture (the line) and the ways that form can and cannot be mutated. The spectrum painting in Donegan’s homage to Newman’s zip and the hard way he came to it,  appears to flummox and defeat her characters, while steadfastly supporting this video that Donegan built.

Erase. 2006. HDV, color, sound. 07:40.

Roberts’ 2005 series of actions for the digital video camera are distinct for their clinical severity, their slickness, and their abject vulnerability. This partnership of control and naked frailty is an uncomfortable combination.  Like Donegan, Roberts uses his own body in studio performance videos. In Donegan’s work, the studio space is a palpable location. In Roberts’ videos an aggressive emptiness overwhelms his body and actions. We embrace digital video for its democratization of the moving image. But the technology is in fact very selective about what it can see (or show) and what it cannot see. In phsyics the concept of “white” is understood as the reflection of all colors in the spectrum at equal values. A “black body” is an object that perfectly absorbs electronic radiation (that includes visible light rays). NTSC video has been engineered to ignore what happens to light when it is completely absorbed ( the black level) by off-setting the
voltage of the darkest points of video 54mv above the blanking level (the voltage level at which no image is displayed). Simply put, there can be no
black oblivion in video – no wholly absorptive cloak. The only true void possible in video is a perfectly balanced white.

Framegrab from ERASE by Charlie Roberts

We experience this  equalization of the spectrum as a totality of retinal nothingness. In Erase, Roberts’ intimacy with his medium – his expert understanding of video’s attraction to whiteness, his empathic resignation from the futility finding a true black –  becomes his weapon against himself. In Erase, Roberts exploits digital video’s calibrated attentiveness to the void in a bludgeoning action which forces us
to witness a hi-def digital suicide. We viewers are cast as neutral observers; and subjected to the duration of this erasure. The time Roberts takes/plays/records offers the viewer the option of detachment for a ritual that, to me, so clearly has embedded within it  a phenomenological subjectivity a projection of vast interiority. Roberts’ work transpired on video in the studio, but abides beyond our ability to endure.

Book 30 & Book 34 from “The Untitled Book Series”. 2001-2004.
DV, color, 01:20 & 03:18.

How can despair and beauty share the same space and time? How does one find their place in a space that is designed to suspend them indefinitely? In Book 30, Trigilio forces us to recall and confront the shocking banality of stumbling upon an ambulance waiting to transport a broken body.

Framegrab from BOOK 30 by Michael Trigilio

Can the swirling siren lights become the stars we wish upon?  Dealing with the everyday business of brokenness is a job we witness and dismiss with regularity. But ninety seconds of DV tape accompanied by Trigilio’s own plaintive song transforms the banal into wonderment. Book 34 is relentless. The brutal greys, beiges, and matte silvers of the airport reveal themselves to be unkind, unyielding, ungenerous.

Framegrab from BOOK 34 by Micahel Trigilio

You may not stay. You may not rest. You may not wander. You certainly may not express yourself. You must only wait.  What would happen if the intercoms were hacked and Nordine’s ode to grey were played? Would it help us endure? Or incite, as does Trigilio’s video, the will to escape?

Status Report, 2009. DV, color, 19:23.

How does an artist force a painting into linear time? Force a painting to propel a plot? Force a painting to act against its own better judgement? Bress’ Status Report rages against our collective lapses in judgment, our struggles with greed, and our rigid presumptions and willful mantras of denial. This video also dazzles one’s pants off. I guess someone asked Bress how he was doing and a simple, “I’m fine. How are you?” just would not do.

Framegrab from STATUS REPORT by Brian Bress

In Bress’ video the gorgeous painted and collaged backdrops are so much more deep than flat, his sets are so much more drawings than structures, and the comical beguiling figures are so much more angry than lost. Donegan and Bress share painting as the portal into their videos. Donegan reveals cinematic structure by using its syntax. Bress embraces cinematic illusion by denying us process. We cannot sit facing his sets, paintings and figures in idle detachment. He draws us in with colors so rich we can practically taste them. We gather whatever bread crumbs he leaves for us. We have to follow along and decide whose side we’re on. Bress cajoles us, but,just as I suspect of street buskers earning their bread by dancing for tourists, the jauntiness belies disillusionment and desperation. There is a need here. Perhaps that accounts for the emotive use of color which seduces us (cynically? joyfully?) into the frame, into the performance and into a hermetic but accessible narrative. Bress was a student of Baldessarri. My desire to show Bress’ video prompted my need to show Baldessari’s film. In this video, once again, the student works very hard, with his whole heart, I think. And again, I am strangely moved.

Fairy on a Roof, 2008.
The short narrative film is a form that seems to thrive best overseas where filmmakers know that their short works will have broad viewership, and audiences do not expect a short story to be an elaborate barroom joke (as is
often the case with short films on the American festival circuit). In the short format the filmmaker must do so much, so quickly that I am startled when one actually succeeds! Hadas Neuman’s, Fairy on a Roof, brings us into a world in which the fantastic and the quotidian compete for the same air and battle for the soul of a silent, physically expressive protagonist enchantingly danced and choreographed by Orian Michaeli.

Framegrab from FAIRY ON A ROOF by Hadas Neuman

Her quest for meaning leads her to a paint store where gifts  await her – and us. The protagonist speaks through movement. In the fantasy video of my imagination, The dancer in Moyes’ Going Nowhere and the dancer in Neuman’s piece are bound together by the camera’s trace and join forces to use their combined powers of expression to trade their white cells for orange, green, and pink rooms freshly painted by Baldessari’s student, Bress or the other, and scored by Trigilio. But in fact, this allegorical tale of an identity in search of itself is more than enough.

I REALLY Want You To REALLY Want Me, 2009.
Video, color, 02:20

Offering unmitigated retinal pleasure seems like a perfectly sound way to get someone to want you. Worked for me. I knew I had to share this video the second I saw it at Gallery Space in Hollywood. Organic deeply pigmented forms stutter, throb, and pulsate in this abstract video in I REALLY Want You to REALLY Want Me.

Framegrab from I REALLY WANT YOU TO REALLY WANT ME by Kris Moyes

The series of uncannily alive paintings could be re-enacting the origins of the universe, or could be the behavior of particles, or the steady growth of a zygote. Or it could be that abstraction, color, and decadent saturation come the closest to reminding us of where we come from and what we long for.
Going Nowhere, 2006. video, color, 03:50.
Elastic camerawork instigates a conversation between a dancer and a band who are divided by a wall. The dancer, Anthony Hamilton (brother of Julian Hamilton of the Presets), is in a void of white. The band, Cut Copy,  plays their song, Going Nowhere, in backlit black. The dancer fails to destroy the barrier between them.  But Moyes’ camera deftly succeeds.  The dancer’s body and the flares of light produce the edits.  We must just hang on and try to keep up with this human spectroscope of interpretable movement. One striking snatch of color is the blue milk crate handled by Hamilton at the beginning of his dance. Other hues are stripped away so that we can watch these artists, the band, the dancer and the videomaker work. And work it they do.

Framegrab from Cut Copy: GOING NOWHERE by Kris Moyes

An arc of  grey ash thrown onto the white wall is later completed into a sculpture (or a drawing?) by Hamilton’s body. These sparks of coherence between figure and form collapse, but not into a color field. This male figure is doing an inside job too but without a benevolent master hovering above, permitting smoke breaks. Rather, Hamilton is chased by Moyes’ relentless camera; and works himself  and his white cube to exhaustion and collapse

Unbroken Pieces, 1996. Beta SP. 03:20.

“The reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction and maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century. Machines have replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras.”
–László Moholy-Nagy
Whether or not Amy Alexander agrees with Moholy-Nagy’s pronouncement is unknown. But what seems clear to me is that Alexander’s  Unbroken Pieces can hang boldly from the family tree of fearless new media experimentation planted in the beginning of the twentieth century by artists like Moholy-Nagy. In Alexander’s hands pixels blossom, buttress, shatter, and splinter. Oily metallic shards shape-shift and slice the lake of blackness that floats her animations.  The fragments seem to try very hard to unify into a  balanced sheet of white light but instead reflect and refract the spectrum with increasing speed. Eventually composer Kent Clelland’s soundtrack cues clataclism. The screen goes blank (54mv higher than blank).

Still from UNBROKEN PIECES by Amy Alexander

Quickly, twirling triangular shards and beams of white light traveling the way light does, in straight lines, construct an architecture in the void of black. This new space allows shapes and colors to emerge and express. The time-traveling technology-morphing familiarity of this imagery, with its reference to constructivist exploits, is undermined by the distant phasing shrieks on the score and the evenness of the floating objects guided by computational algorithms. Try as it might, the math cannot break these forms.

Six Colorful Inside Jobs, 1977. 16mm, color, 30:00. Shown on video.

“Today I am painting a wall. Today I am making a painting.” Baldessari says that as young man, working for his father cleaning empty rentals, he would engage in this conceptual exercise while re-painting vacant apartments.  The first time I saw Six Colorful Inside Jobs, I assumed that the figure carefully painting and re-painting the frame-filling cubicle was Baldessari himself. I’ve since learned that the camera peers down on one of his students.

Framegrab from SIX COLORFUL INSIDE JOBS by John Baldessari

I find the thoroughness applied to the task of coating the room in a single color strangely touching. This new information combined with the circulating legends of Mr. Baldessari’s abiding interest in his students (and their dedication to him)  increased that sentiment for me. What do artists DO? I suppose from an layman’s perspective, we don’t appear to do much at all, do we? And what’s the use of what we do produce? Compounding this misunderstanding  is the way in which leisure time is so critical in allowing the mind to make associations, forge connections, and then get the courage to stand to cover a canvas with blue paint, and then perhaps add a slim stripe up the middle. (But I slip back to Donegan!) I offer that the wonderment in this piece lies in its balance between the vicarious satisfaction in a job well done that we viewers gain from watching the young man paint, and pleasure in abstraction that occurs when he  closes the door, and leaves us to ponder an effervescent field of color. Today there is a figure moving, working, painting a wall. Today there is a minimalist painting. I think it’s startling that an image can so elegantly shift from the figurative to the abstract and all the while make me think about the work that artists do every day.

Color Film, 2008. 16mm, color sound. 07:00.
Most regrettably shown on video.

Color names have come a long and strange way from the days when Nordine waxed poetic about magenta, azure, and lavender.  Meghan O’Hara’s experimental documentary, Color Film,  begins with the editor-at-large of Merriam-Webster Inc. reading dictionary definitions for colors. This collides with the voice of  a cognitive psychologist explaining the elusiveness of defining color. Colors are objects with shifting tones and values which escape precise form. From there, O’Hara proceeds to reveal to us the ways in which, even for those who labor to produce hues in the form of latex paint, the color is a  trickster and a magician (of Ken Nordine’s ilk rather than Webster’s). Mary Lawlor, a color stylist for Kelly-Moore Paints suggests that  colors invite us to project our feelings outward. The colors we see are actually what we project –  what we value rather than the color’s physical value.

Framegrab from COLOR FILM by Megahn O’Hara

O’Hara’s exquisitely color-timed, pensively photographed celluloid film, goes on to explain that the value of a color only matters when it is a thing that can be replicated, manufactured, and sold. Industrialism makes color matter. Industrialism actually decides which colors matter and in this way has shaped actual signifiers of identity. If a fabric manufacturer can see no value in producing bolts of pink fabric, and bolts of turquoise fabric, then Gilbert Baker’s  gay pride flag loses its sex (pink stripe), and its magic (turqoise stripe). How apt that sex and magic are the things that industrialism erased. And how deftly O’Hara’s film forces us to stare at our walls, our food, our world, just a little more keenly.

Bixel, 2005. DV, color, sound. 05:00.

Kory Newkirk

hope Newkirk will forgive me for returning to Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism Manifesto to  discuss his video:
Under Suprematism I understand the supremacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.
In many respects, I see principles in Kori Newkirk’s video, Bixel, that stand in opposition to Malevich’s declaration. As I watch the artist hurl his body across fecund landscapes, expelling molten glitter, spinning through voids, I believe that Newkirk considers himself a body and a being within a very specific environment, indeed. Perhaps the staking of a space in which the visual phenomena of the objective world receded to meaninglessness is too gross an entitlement for the twenty-first century. My application of the above declaration goes towards the
way in which Newkirk approached the material of video. He avoided predictable
syntax to produce a blazing spectacle of pure feeling and shrewd formality.
Mundane associations cease. The sensuousness of Newkirk’s expressive body, as he strolls across a grassy knoll, or pirouettes through wooded saplings, presses away from the banal containment of our every-day  towards a tortured ecstasy. The rich combination of textures seems all the more accentuated by the way in which Newkirk controls and limits his palette. Our planet is green. This is the surface upon which we must project and embed ourselves.  Newkirk’s body struggles to rest, but fails. He is constantly in motion. Combinations of texture:// unmowed grass plus closely shaved head / spiking glitter plus velvet skin /  an orbiting black body within the abstraction of  a white void. Is the figure flying or falling? Floating or hanging? With glitter pouring from his lips and down his chest, is this figure famished or furious? Bixel protests and proclaims in its own language that I magically understand like a translator-gadget wielding humanoid avatars in Hollywood films. But in this video, unlike mega-budget sci-fi, there is no hypocrisy, no abject desire for blackness folded into the willful absence of black autonomy. Bixel inhales the spectrum and spits it back out to us as fearlessly and truthfully as it can.


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.
This entry was posted in artists or film/videos, curating, program. Bookmark the permalink.

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