Sunday, 30 November 2008


The following post is a blogger's after-image, product of a number 15 bus, between St.Pauls and Whitechapel, London, in words and pictures for Simon Payne's two curated sessions of Colour Field Film and Video at Tate Modern (Fri 21 and Sat 22 Nov 2008).

Perception and memory when object and frame are both wool. A response to colour entwined with texture, into trauma, all its genders and associations. Could I disagree?

The experience of a favourite room. Image of tree on table, bird onto hand. Gift of the optical printer, many doors and windows. Only what confirms the room. A promise of transparency gladly broken.

Insertion of black,  inbetween, an artificial blinking, rhythm variable.  I would never have thought it could prompt in me such combinations of mourning and hilarity.

But I'm a verbal person alright, seventies jazz funk on the soundtrack, removing each sheet of paper in turn. 

So there are these ideas of wool and there is why we feel about a particular colour the way we do, and there is coloured wool, which throws me completely:

Good Evening. We're here because of R, his colour fields and that favourite critics game of finding a cake equivalent for each. It's an odd camaraderie because R hates us. He thinks Robert and Jasper, who you probably know, are sending us backwards, into everything he wanted to rid us of. 

Whereas we, if we're honest, trace everything we do back to combines and flags. R, of course, hates these films. The red of his paintings is not the red of the auditorium in which we sit. 

I tried taking a photo of R, but when it was uploaded he had strangely vanished:


Good evening. I'm not a scholar but the more I get into making these colour films, the more acrimonious it seems.  The claims that colour field pattern is the end point of art, while I prefer placing mirrors in rubble, making spirals of rocks in salt lakes, and so does colour. 

I'll start again, to try and sketch out some basics: 

the field of the canvas

the field of the screen 

CANVAS                      SCREEN                        BUS

Here are two photos of me reading Josef Alber's book Interaction of Colour

... Having a good time in New Mexico [he wrote]. Blue square under my shirt, green on my back. Colored squares of card on the music stand of a grand piano, application of colored fat squares to the walls and windows of our room. 

I tried to get rid of some blue with bleech, but it was the sky. We really laughed. Josef had an affair with the landlady and then looks to a particular combination of colored squares of card to get him out of the ensuing emotional mess...

I wish Josef was on this bus now. Josef was just as difficult as R. But Josef is actually a figure who connects. Robert studied with him, to learn from someone who had opposite tendency to himself. 

As long as the seats in the red room were well designed Josef would be happy, regardless of the films. 

Which, of course, is what you want from a colour, whoever you are. Sigh. Unless you are Helio. 

Hello Helio. I love Helio. Helio's red is the red of the room in which we sit, red walls, red chairs and red films. For Helio, though, this is merely a stopping station on the way to colour we can wear. 

Is there a similar trajectory in colour films towards being clothing? I hope not. 


There is one experience of colour after which there is a mysterious round of applause. No one knows why this should be, but it happens even when the audience is entirely composed of paint charts. 

Why does this applause happen? Relief, yes, but also a kind of gratitude that exists, deep within the blinking, amongst arguing wool strands, defining frame and gender. 

THINKING OF SOURCES: Images from upper deck of a no.15 bus. A colour field is a product of speed, time, and cities. About activity, even in the City of London, quiet and empty at the weekends. 

Wool in Jennifer Nightingale, Knitting Pattern (2006). The insertion of black frames was a feature of Gregory Markopoulos Ming Green (1966).  

Rothko saw an exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg's Combines and Jasper Johns flag paintings at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York, seeing both as evidence of a turning backwards to what he had sought to remove from art. 

The tensions between post-Rothko colour field painting, its celebration by Clement Greenberg and his acolytes, and the conflict with minimalism, conceptualism and land art is  well captured in Amy Merchant's Challenging Art: Artforum 1962-1974

The figure of Joseph Albers as a link between these conflicting histories, arises through his own explorations of colour, and his teaching at Black Mountain College.

Inparticular, it relates to the ways artists such as Robert Rauschenberg (as, before in Chicago, Eve Hesse) formed their work through that teaching, even as they questioned and challenged its precepts and products. 

Josef Albers infidelities whilst staying - with Anni - in a New Mexico guesthouse are mentioned by Nicholas Fox Weber in his introduction to the Tate edition of Poems & Drawings, presumably to add some emotional turbulence to the otherwise rather gentle text and geometric drawings that follow.

H is Helio Oiticica, whose work with colour included films, paintings, installations, and parangoles. 

On Friday night at Tate Modern a round of applause followed the screening of Paul Sharits Ray Gun Virus (1966).   

Friday, 28 November 2008


(From TOP:) Mark Lewis, Children's Games, Heygate Estate,8min, Super 35mm/video, 2002; William Raban, A13, 12min, 16mm/video, 1994.

TRANSCENTRIC, 17 Nov - 16 Dec 2008, Lethaby Gallery, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Southampton Row, London. 

Transcentric is a thoughtful show filling two rooms of the Lethaby Gallery at Central St.Martin's. I caught it, unexpectedly, in a rain storm, and as this blog is supposed to be about responding to artists' film in various contexts - before you've seen it, afterwards, during, whilst both sleeping and awake - I thought I'd try and suss out some of what I gleaned from my impromptu visit.

Inparticular I wanted to focus on the film and video work that fills the second room. More specifically, the experience that comes from standing at the entrance. Because from the doorway one can see a range of work. On a tilted ramp on the floor there is Steven Ball's Land Gauge (2006), an aerial view moving over a landscape of urban scrub: grasses, trees, and paths that both express, replace, and comment upon the city they border.

Whilst Land Gauge is shot on video, it reminded me of Chris Welsby's Anemometer (1974), in which the wind propels the motor of a 16mm camera hanging from a tree, up the road from here  in Euston Square. If there wasn't such a direct process at work here, there still seemed to be a sense of hitch and delay in the image, as if powered by what it filmed or relying on some fragile, slightly delayed satellite connection. 

Aerial views, too, can shift a physical landscape towards  becoming a map of itself, something borne out here by the method of display. Scrub, I thought, a little randomly, moving on, is nature at its most human.  

Projected on the wall was Mark Lewis' Children's Games, Heygate Estate (2002), in which a camera moves along the walkways of a housing estate (the piece is also available online here). If there is a faltering quality to Ball's camera, Lewis is possessed of a smooth, ever-onward steadicam momentum that is a little disturbing, seeming somewhat to devour the urban landscape it moves through with its uncanny persistence. 

It's appropriate that whilst not totally absent there are very few people in Lewis' film. The non-human rhythm begins to align the cameras rhythm more with the long lines of the Heygate estate buildings themselves, or the curving ramps along which it glides and turns without tiring or faltering. I even began to suspect there must be a sign somewhere in the film-makers head saying "No Games Allowed", the real architecture becoming some architects simulacrum of pleasure, a once lost vision of imagined games, without any of their rough, irregular physicality. 

Two other pieces complete the rooms panoply of movements. On the ceiling is Anne Tallentire's Telling It (2006). Looped and nineteen minutes long, it contains large segments when the sky is entirely blue, which, if you start watching during a particularly long all-blue bit can make you wonder if there is anything being projected at all, or whether this is some digitally generated colour screen. 

But then the top of a lamp post or some tree branches and leaves reveal this to be an upward glance, from a moving vehicle vehicle, at the sky. It's wonderful that such a straightforward device should also generate something that seems for long stretches the most extreme formalist investigation. Paul Sharits had nothing on the sky, was my conclusion here. 

By this point I was enjoying each piece for its role in the room's whole as much as its individuality. As, too, the works feed into a larger project. Along with a first room of sound installations, light boxes, C Type prints, and silicone text - and some further projections in the window gallery in Charing Cross Road - TRANSCENTRIC is a collection of works by artists associated either with RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia or with London's University of the Arts. In the words of its own press release: 

The works in the exhibition move across, beyond, between, and within city centres... concerned with phenomena that we might think of as 'urban', however this is interpreted not only in terms of spatial relationship, but also considers how the urban centre resonates with overlapping themes arising from social, environmental, geographical, political and other forces. 

The room's final component was a wooden container, like an upturned skip open at one end and forming a small cinema looping six further works. Some offered variations of the movement on the surrounding walls, floors and ceiling, notably Tina Keane's A Train of Thought (2007). This wove a wide array of imagery, evoking evolutionary time spans, around a rectangular, train shaped strip of imagery, that sometimes was a train and other times became a shimmering field of different coloured moving light strips.

On a related theme, too, was William Raban's A13. Made in 1994, this was the oldest piece on display, its certain degree of canonicity emphasising how central its own concerns and techniques had become to projects such as TRANSCENTRIC. That said, other films on the loop were in no way constrained to Raban's own aesthetic territory, which combined elements of documentary with a range of post-production effects to more accurately depict and express its East London landscape. 

Jennet Thomas, Return of the Black Tower, 15 min, video, 2007.

Most delightfully varying was Jennet Thomas' Return of the Black Tower (2007,) a bizarre and surreal fable in which a middle aged man and woman, smartly and conservatively dressed, faces covered in gold paint, were applauded for offering testimony concerning some strange, unspecified force that had transformed their own lives and the country as a whole, now full of support groups to explore the unnamed forces illusive presence.

Thomas' video, which extended and adapted themes of an earlier John Smith work, definitely embraced the theatrical in a way that the other pieces here didn't, working through staged, acted actions, and the aura of deliberate uncertainty surrounding them: its public meeting could have been a town council or an AA meeting or a bizarre soap opera, whilst the strange transforming powers were related to rotating black shapes; kitchens threaded with string; laying over the sofa in various still positions; rugs, cushions, and table settings. 

These forces were a very English version of what's outside the space station window in Solaris. As for the concept of the urban, like all the pieces in this room, Return of the Black Tower posited a space both landscape and idea, other and uncanny, whose evidence, like the city itself, was as "natural" as the unavoidable fact of its construction.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


All images: Daniel García Andújar / Technologies To The People, Postcapital. Archive 1989-2001. Copyright the artist. 

The images throughout this piece are press images for Postcapital. Archive 1989 - 2001, an art project by Daniel García Andújar / Technologies To The People (Nov 22, 2008 - Jan 18, 2009) at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart.  

I'm puzzled by them, not so much because of their form, which reflects several ever present contemporary concerns: an interest in archives and the use of the gallery as a designed environment for perusal of the archive. No, what puzzles me about these images is something more specific about the kind of encounter they invite. 

They highlight two contrasting kinds of space: the space of the gallery and the space of the images themselves. One is ordered, clean and clear,  and at its best-worst can suggest the gallery as a kind of less crowded Apple Store. Within its comforts, on its tidy screens, the theoretical ideal is that we can look at all kinds of images, ranging freely across genocide, war, pornography, current affairs, leisure activities, anything at all, reassured  and supported by the gallery setting...

Actually, the remit of Postcapital is defined, having identified its very own historical period (1989-2001)  that its images attempt to bring to summation. It's an interesting idea, and one evidently seeking to rehabilitate a term: google Postcapital at the moment and it is mainly the preserve of private investment and equity firms.

But prompted by the two images above: what really are we supposed to do in a gallery with all this material? What relationship to it are we supposed to have? What are we supposed to do? My own rather vague and random exhibition behaviour make me resistant to any overly structured idea of critical thinking, space for reflection, or individual forms of research. The image above suggests some sense of parody has entered, consciously or unconsciously, into Postcapital. At least, I hope so. 

García Andújar's double images (see below) are relevant here, because they point to an uncomfortable interzone rather than a distinction between separate categories of material. I wonder how such contaminations - I'm not at all sure that's the right word but it does suggest the (hypothetical) viral intensity that can hold together archives of this kind- could be extended to the exhibition as a whole. 

I found a rudimentary outline of the kind of exhibition space I'm trying to suggest in Brandon La Belle's  new essay Genet on Holiday, or proposals for a dirty ear where he writes:

Hiding, going undercover, ducking the spotlight, on the move, behind the lines or out of bounds, in the cracks, skirting the issue, out of sight, beyond the pale, out of earshot, past the divide, covert or masked, slippery or slick, - mr slick, ice cold or slimy and slithery... - he remains hard to know, difficult to gauge, unknown to most of us, but somehow always present: surprised by his actions, who is he anyway? What is the point, where is the origin, who knows the secret, the original mark of difference and identity, so as to know to affirm to name to underscore the line of thinking, the directive, the language around which all words and actions circulate? Lost or losing the way, turning surface into a game, words into theatre, self into trickster - I twist the map into a ball, crumple it up and toss it into the street where the wind carries it...

Jean Genet leaves the house to roam the countryside, picking up hustlers and sailors along the way, himself a child a thief a poet a lover all intertwined into the formation of a different kind of dance; he aims to remain on the edge of the language that keeps sex and criminality on either side, love and politics divided, poetry and friendship at odds... I linger over Genet because he shows the way through the twisted roads of the body and the law, where presence is always already more than itself, and wedged into the economy of desire dictated by the markings of the social; misfit derelict hustler fag romantic outcast ragpicker fuck-up loser - the pirate nation comes to haunt the castle by revealing, through a surreptitious counteraction, what is always already housed within. 

Yet what Genet uncovers is the means to withstand the very promise of opposition - his is a meandering antagonism, a horizon masking the view with an uncertain presence, one that camouflages the scene with its own inherent patterning, a kind of overwriting to a point of pleasure and honesty, reporting or tracing while pricking the skin. (17) 

AND THE VOICE SAID:  Be wary of your own proposals. They could produce some truly terrible exhibitions. Note, too, how in some of the photographs above both a person and a bulldog clip can be used to give a sense of human scale. That's not good.

Using La Belle's essay here is a further adaption of its own strategy of inventing Genet as an inspiration for sound art.  It helps point towards an engagement with the art-archive that can encourage ruptures of feeling and relationship into its smooth, slick veneer. These ruptures may be felt by the gallery viewer or be qualities of the images themselves.  Sometimes I think a mix of parody and radical pedagogy is the way to go, but other times this does not seem possible.

SOURCE: Brandon LaBelle's essay  is included in Cathy Lane ed. Playing with Words: The spoken word in artistic practice (CRiSAP/ RGAP 2008) ISBN 978 0 9558273 3 4.


Monday, 24 November 2008



All of these images are the result of reading four  New Directions editions of Kenneth Patchen's Painted Picture Poems (his term):
Hallelujah Anyway (1967); Aflame and Afun of Walking Faces (1970), Poemscapes and A Letter to God (1958) and Wonderings (1971). The first and last of these titles - along with But Even So - have recently been re-issued by New Directions as The Walking-Away World

Images result from a direct, moving encounter between the book itself and the in-built camera on a lap top, and constitute a method of reading I hope to explore further.  

All of these books - and my sequence above - could be seen to imply Patchen thought and worked primarily in black and white, whereas in fact an exuberant sense of colour was central to all of the Painted Picture Poems. Karl Young's excellent Light & Dust site offers a sample of Patchen in colour. 

The text for the title of this post is from a poem reproduced on the cover of Hallelujah Anyway. It reads in its entirety: 


Saturday, 22 November 2008


Marie Menken, Glimpse of the Garden (1957). Copyright Menken estate.

An Arabesque for Marie Menken, Tate Modern, Sat 15 Nov - Sun 16 Nov 2008. Curated by Lucy Reynolds.

Last week's post on Marie Menken was bizarre. Based on very limited exposure to her work - Ubuweb, a google search, and a copy of the Film Culture reader - I wanted to generate a response to her work that didn't reproduce the oppositions these materials revealed: the gossip about a turbulent emotional life versus the celebration of a quiet, thoughtful lyricism. Maybe, I wondered, the body-camera could also be read in terms that were agitative, turbulent and dissociative rather than blissful, calm and engaged.

Many of these ideas were revised by the screenings and discussions comprising last weekends excellent An Arabesque for Marie Menken, curated by Lucy Reynolds at Tate Modern. But the sense of how to engage with Menken remained, with different strands of the event emphasising the films themselves, the emotional complexities of her marriage and other relationships, as well as broader artistic movements and trends. One speaker, Melissa Ragona, for example, was keen to move Menken away from categories of film-diary or poem, emphasising instead her alignments with conceptualism, pop, and structuralist film.

All of which was fascinating but could rather take over from the films themselves, which were divided into two screenings. On the Saturday there was a programme highlighting Menken's relationships to landscapes, buildings and natural objects. A further selection on Sunday focussed on films with direct relations to artists ands art objects. Alongside this, there was a screening of work by the Gryphon Film Group - including, amongst others, Menken, her husband Willard Maas, Brakhage and Charles Boultenhouse -  and a programme highlighting Menken as performer in other peoples films.

After last weeks essay I need to start with Glimpse of the Garden (1957) and the gorgeous colour that has evaporated from the various versions on the internet. Indeed, Menken's sensibility as a colourist, her related exploration of surface and depth, and how she navigated around buildings or landscapes were some of the themes that emerged from the first batch of films, alongside a continual exploration around relations of sound and image - both in collaboration with Teijo Ito or, as in Glimpse, through combining her images with an LP of bird song. 


Menken engaged with the medium of film as entwined in nature. In Moonplay (1962) an initial moon appears crumpled into the materiality of the film itself, before being replaced by another moon more evocative of electric light. Menken is always fucking up nature, observed Ragona, actually referring to Glimpses where Menken shakes a branch to generate required raindrops. The unfolding shifts and twists of Menken's body-camera are somewhat elusive at first viewing, but it would be fascinating to reconstruct them and try and inhabit those swings of attention.

Elsewhere there were studies of city movement and traffic in Go! Go! Go! (1962-4); flickering flames over shots of sperm with a fireworks soundtrack in Hurry! Hurry! (1957); whilst sections of Notebook (1963) demonstrated her interest in animated paper cutouts. What linked these different techniques was a stop-start sensibility, an interest in momentum interfused with actual or potential interruption, lingering and delay. This is how Menken's work becomes - to quote one of the contested terms in the weekends discussions - "play." It is part, too, of a sense of nature always interfused with human fallibility; of shifts from establishing shot to close up uninterested in maintaining a sense of ordered, gradated, perspectival space. 

Marie Menken (from TOP:) Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945); Hurry! Hurry! (1957). Copyright Menken estate.

Before Sunday's programme of Menken films, there was a chance to see Menken - known to her (male) contemporaries as "The Body" - as performer in Warhol's The Life of Juanita Castro (1965). The film comprised a tableau of around a dozen performers, including Ronald Tavel, who reads aloud from his script. Tavel calls out the name of the speaker and the line, and the actors then dutifully repeat their words. At the front of the tableau, dressed in their own everyday clothes, sits Menken as Castro's wife, flanked by two women playing Castro and Che Guevara. Menken's performance style offers a useful frame for reading her own films.

Menken's physical presence is immense and often hilarious. The same sense of delay and repeat between Tavel and the actors is also enacted by Menken's body, so that her face and gestures have a sense of delay, suggesting thinking, processing, and an ever volatile sense of non-comprehension and unpredictability.  This tension dynamises the tableau, working similarly to Warhol's decision to film from a side camera, whilst the actors assume a more frontal placed camera is the one doing the recording. When Menken stands she moves partly out of the frame and into an eloquent, suggestively invisible off-screen space. 

As shown on Sunday afternoon, Menken also played bit parts in films by The Gryphon Film Group, whose cinema was romantic, mythological, and saturated in the influence of Cocteau. According to Ragona, Menken laughed at this mythological approach. But, of course, the Gryphon Group's films jar not just with Menken's work, but with the future developments in New American Cinema, and of its own participants, notably Brakhage. It is interesting to reflect whether this romantic, poetic, Cocteau- like sensibility disappeared or was transmuted in the pop and structural work that followed.

A final set of Menken films focussed on her relationship to art: both art objects and the artists themselves. In Watts with EGGS (1967) a fluxbox was opened and the silver eggs playfully arranged and re-arranged in a rapid-fire stop-motion sequence. In Drips and Strips (1963), paint was allowed to run down a vertical board. This tied the gestures of abstract expressionism more to gravity than to any grand artistic sensibility. It also dramatised Menken's own relationship both inside and outside various groups, sensibilities and techniques. 

Similarly, if her portrait Andy Warhol (1965) has an intimate closeness in its shots of the artist at work, it also removes itself from Warhol's studio to film the real Brillo box factory and its workers. Like her focus on Warhol and Malanga making screenprints, it's another example of Menken's interest in production that fuses the hand-made, organic and mechanical. In Mood Mondrian (1963) this is revealed in two techniques. Firstly, the juxtaposition of still frames into a rapid collage. Secondly, the rapid movement of the camera itself over the paintings own lines and squares. 

Which just left a final Q&A. As well as critical arguments, a lot of valuable information emerged from panelists and audience. For example, title credits - often by Jack Hawkins - were added by Menken when a screening opportunity came along in order, Menken believed, to give the films a desired professionalism. Melissa Ragona, meanwhile, stressed Menken's influence on Warhol - and her salon home  with Maas as a proto-Factory - but also warned against over-emphasising Menken's historical role. She highlighted Carolee Schneeman's  recent observation that it had been humiliating to see Menken at home  "servicing the daisy chain"- bringing drinks and cookies to Maas and his boyfriends.   

Other parts of Menken's life and work remained mysterious, not least a precise sense of what she thought she was doing.  A video tribute by Jonas Mekas was criticised  - by Ragona and others  -  for his description of Menken's "little little films", as if this patronisingly denied her both a purpose and a project.  I saw Mekas's remark as a philosophical position about the inherent uncertainty and fragility of certain types of moving image making. It was an uncertainty hard to hold onto amidst all the screenings and discussions. By the end of a fascinating weekend I wasn't sure if I believed in it or not.