I wanted to know what video was all about, to examine the medium somehow, understand what its parts are: sound, image, time, movement, the ability to record, the ability to transmit. I wanted to think about these things the way they are. The question of video’s nature seemed important. Not only because I have been working with it so frequently as a curator, but because moving images are slowly invading everything. I carry moving images in my pocket all the time. They can be ‘present’ anywhere, and certainly seem to follow me everywhere, as a general condition of being and communicating.
Movable Facture is an attempt to bring a physical realization to bear that will allow one to consider the material nature of video. The project brings together five artists working in Canada and the USA working at a crossroads between experimental formal processes and involved narrative structures. The interviews and images in this publication are a document of the conversations and approaches that led to the Movable Facture exhibition, installed from June 1-23, 2012 at VIVO Media Arts Centre, where I conducted a six-month residency dedicated to the development of this project.
In an attempt to better understand the material nature of video I have looked to structural film history, much of which centered around a particular group of artists—mostly men, (such as Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, Tony Conrad, Morgan Fischer, Paul Sharits) many of whom were situated in New York at the end of the1960s and early 1970s. As pertinent and influential as this history is to my thinking (Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia was a key inspiration to undertake this research), I decided to follow a diversion in my research, toward what I most loosely term ‘narrative’. In my attempt to draw a connection between formal and intellectual processes, I found a current of video work that gravitates toward telling stories while at the same time working in experimental video forms. Video is a natural vehicle for storytelling, since it relies upon movement and has a tendency to unfold as a progression. But in addition to narrative’s content (enacted), the form of making an image move can be seen in the interventions of language or structural manifestations of social and historical research that enter these works. In video, information is a formal quality—an aspect of the medium that I feel deeply connected to.
For this project I selected pieces that access frames of reference outside of their material formal constructs. The result is a group of works that do not “go together,” thematically, but rather treat their subject matter according to similar thought processes. My choice to exhibit variations on narrative and structural intermingling acts as an experiment that might elaborate a little on the medium, while giving as much space as possible to each project, allowing each work to be considered on its own.
Movable Facture, therefore, acts as a touch point in an ongoing exploration, serving as evidence of video’s flexibility and the medium’s resistance to conform to any fixed understanding. To be clear, this project is not an exhaustive study. The artists presented here were found through travel, insight and suggestion. Gathering these works was done in an effort to see and better understand where divergent projects might overlap. Searching and researching informs the result of this gathering of works that touch on each other, at various points, but do not correspond as parallels.
Amy Granat and Drew Heitzler’s T.S.O.Y.W., a remake of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, forms a base for the exhibition. A two-channel cinematic structure, shot simultaneously by Granat and Heitzler using a Bolex film camera, the work proposes a melancholic atmosphere and a prolonged relationship to the viewer. The work deals with the resituation of Goethe’s classic, tragic literary narrative through a silent protagonist whose non-verbal explorations are underscored by a slow noise music soundtrack. Synching and unsynching simultaneous perspectives on Werther’s movements positions the timeframe of the video in both the present and the recent past: Our attention shifts back and forth in time and space in a way that reinforces the romantic brooding of the story. In an irreverent gesture—and temporal update—the romance is constructed between a man and the open road, as he journeys through America on a motorcycle. As man and machine drift through aesthetic spatial views, the world around them is coated with a thick veneer of discontent. Abstractions and experimental processes invade the frame, giving form to the psychological pain of the protagonist. We reluctantly follow Werther through the tough sublime landscape of America’s highways and deserts in fits and starts, bouncing between moments of light and land and the plotting of interior and exterior points of view. The motorcycling anti-hero rolls past The Lightning Field, the Sun Tunnels, the Roden Crater and Spiral Jetty. An aspect of the piece reinforces the pilgrimage and art’s inward gaze, which is further underscored by Werther’s persistent use of a video camera to capture his environment. The fixed gaze of desire is certainly at play, drawing us slowly forward while any possibility of attaining freedom is revealed as an off-kilter state riddled with nagging doubts that are underscored by the hazy simultaneity of the two artists visions.
Unanswered questions may linger in the air like dissatisfied molecules, but these drifting elements of discomfort have potential. A dissatisfaction with the friction present in televised fiction is the launching point for More or Less Square, Isabelle Pauwels’ bookwork and video project. This playfully scripted project uses the artist’s research into editorial and production paperwork as an organizing element. The formal structure stems from her desire to imitate the monotone intensity of the reality television genre in 2003. Taking the form of an ordered yet intentionally unlikely three-part script with an adjacent video, Pauwels piece is conceptually linked to the structures and procedures of editing and content delivery. Despite Parts 1 and 2 of the book’s content being rooted in moments of television’s history, the project eludes a strict relationship to video as a medium. Part 3, a script for a play, touches on what it is possible to communicate to an audience through the records—or scripts—of a given form of transmission. Fittingly, her use of video forgoes the medium’s ability to make representations seem realistic, instead capitalizing on its capacity to enliven a narrative through timed movement. The video component of her project acts as a byproduct of her storytelling, which is condensed into moving words on a screen. Pauwels describes her use of video in this work as an addendum to the written: The video functions much like an advertisement, promoting the work’s contents in order to engage viewers in the stories that are buried in a difficult-to-consume format. Pauwels resists the urge to allow video to bring us images, a type of work that the medium performs quite well. Instead, we are left with more references to the unreal, and to grapple with the artist’s research and labour.
A counterpoint in strategy and an echo in formal structure, Benjamin Tiven’s book and video projects The Small Infinity and [Chess Story] give us an opportunity to consider a narrative that mingles a myriad of entangled relationships occurring over time. Retelling history tends to follow time’s logic, but there is always the potential to interrupt the natural succession of events. What happens when you interrupt a straightforward progression—the logical “image, image, image” of film’s tiny photographs? Tiven is fully immersed in this inquiry, investigating ways to reconfigure experience in order to draw out how history repeats itself. The results jump between fiction and the echoes of fiction in reality. The formal structure of his work acts as a frame, within which a back-and-forth repetition of text, real life events, memory, narrative and documentation occurs. Using a metanarrative structure to guide us, Tiven’s projects use a generative system to relay experiences as elements in a larger story. The result refuses to simply coalesce into one solid form, playing out simultaneously as a document and a poetic constellation.
Jennifer West’s work handles inquiry quite differently, by abstracting text and material research into aesthetic experiences. Her videos document the processes of her films—manhandled pieces of film stock covered in various substances, from lemon juice to Ex-lax. In a total departure from video’s immaterial nature, she begins with the most evocative materially-based activities: scraping, dripping, touching, tearing. Afterwards she uses video as a static location in which a record of this material process—film negatives that are decaying—can be preserved. The work is founded on a poetic inquiry that associates the materials present within a subculture to its figures and forms. Formal aesthetic gestures and material research and experimentation are an indispensable foundation in her projects. Yet she takes care to look for a connection between social history and formal experience, communicating these in her work through installation strategies and the titles of her works.
When presented together these formal strategies evade any notion of a common artistic theme. What brings these works closer to one another is each artist’s attention to the ways one might take on relationships between research, process and product. The combination of selected works in Movable Facture prompts one to consider how works might act when they are together—whether they will repel one another or form something immersive and valuable. These connections are urgent and relevant, as the plurality of possible strategies reminds us that there is no one answer to the question of what constitutes a meaningful artistic experience. Video is here a carrier for formal and material research. Each piece acts as a variation on a process. A way of working that can be considered from many sides, capable of so many assemblies of content and positions of meaning.
I owe a debt of gratitude to each of the artists in this exhibition for taking the time to share their work and thoughts with me. What follows in this publication is a series of interviews—fragments of our original conversations, really—for further consideration of the artists’ works.
Many individuals supported this project through its development. To begin with, the project could not have been possible without the generous support and encouragement of Amy Kazymerchyk, who gave the project a home base and supported all of my ambitions. Her dedication to fostering critical dialogue and creative growth reaches well beyond her role at VIVO into all of her dealings as a thinker, an artist, and a friend. Amazing ongoing highly concrete advice, technical assistance, and challenging existential discussions with Alex Muir made this project more solid. The ongoing advice, support and speedy email replies of many of my colleagues in the wider art community gave me the means necessary to pursue my endeavors and should not go unmentioned. In no particular order: Jonathan Middleton, grant troubleshooter; Liz Park, questioner of curatorial principals; Eli Bornowsky, discerning enthusiast of noise music and experimental work; Brian McBay, who helps to build walls and solid statements; Michelle Fu, for all the vinyl; Aaron Carpenter, because he introduced me to Andrew Berardini, who navigated connections to various artists for me; and Tracy Stefanucci, because she makes prose better. Mathew Arthur from Office Supply was the able mind that made this catalogue along with its adjacent website: www.movablefacture.ca.
I also wish to publicly appreciate the Pacific Cinémathèque, Electronic Arts Intermix, and Anthology Film Archives where I screened films, watched videos and looked through archives. Much thought and dedication goes into keeping these art institutions open. They preserve our history.
The research for Movable Facture was developed through a curatorial residency at VIVO Media Arts Centre with curatorial and production support from Amy Kazymerchyk, Events and Exhibitions Coordinator. The exhibition was presented at VIVO Media Arts Centre from June 1-23 2012.
Funding for the residency was provided by the Canada Council for the Arts through the Grants to Professional Independent Critics and Curators Program.
Funding for the Production of the exhibition Movable Facture was provided by the BC Arts Council Project Assistance in the Visual Arts.
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© Allison Collins and contributing artists, 2012. Site content cannot be reproduced without express written permission from the curator and artists.