Ryan Gander, Basquiat or I cant dance to it, one day - but not now, one day I will but that will be it, but you wont know and that will be it, 2008, single channel video.
Ryan Gander, Basquiat, STORE, 15 October - 29 November 2008
I've been writing about the influence of Warhol's films on contemporary artists, which was one reason why I headed down to STORE in Hoxton to see Ryan Gander's new film Basquiat. Gander's film doesn't deal with Warhol directly, but it reenacts a scene from Schnabel's 1996 film biopic of Basquiat in which the artist, wearing a sweater over pyjamas, cycles through Central Park to visit Warhol. But Gander's film encourages an oblique relationship to its subjects - and not just through asking Victoria park to stand in for a piece of Manhattan.
A spoken text accompanies the silent digital footage of the cyclist. It tells the viewer that there are two elements to the work, the film and the text; that the cyclist is Gander's gallerist; how the text itself is a press release but one that cannot be removed from the work and ends up become implicated in it. Press releases are normally written to give a handle on the work, says the voice over. Which, it concludes, is the last thing I want to do.
It's a set of concerns familiar from Gander's work, whose playful self-awareness often creates objects strangely poised between art commodity and disposable joke. The use of film changes this tone. Compared to the other pieces in this exhibition - such as a pair of mock obituaries, one of the artist himself, written in 2050 - it has a duration and presence beyond its own punch line. It's also, incidentally, a nicely executed study of the cyclist, setting up its own aesthetic reality separate from the text, even as the text constantly asserts its own entwining with it.
The park, too, fills the image, as do passers-by who - fleetingly and without much interest - look on. Maybe cyclists in their pyjamas in Victoria park, or artists filming videos, are a common phenomenon. Having set up some of its own meta-frameworks, the text goes on to explore Schnabel's film. It suggests this particular scene as one where the insider-outsider dynamic is most clearly expressed: the clothes suggest an outsider that doesn't care, the destination of Warhol a key statement of (desire for) ambition and insiderness.
More particularly, the text outlines the films - Schnabel's film, that is - entwining of Schnabel and Basquiat. Schnabel, his daughter and parents all appear in the film, either in fictional personas or as themselves. When the Basquiat estate refuses permission to use any original paintings, Schnabel paints a whole series of Basquiat reproductions. Gander's voice over asserts that the film should be called My Basquiat, and sees in Schnabel's biopic of Basquiat what it had previously observed about the press release: the impossibility of being removed, of making a statement about the work that isn't implicated in the work itself.
Some phrases from the voice over I scribbled in the dark:
Schnabel wrapped himself within Basquiat in order to re-enact a version of himself.
Basquiat enabled Schnabel to imagine oneself through a series of mis-identifications, although maybe that is what life is about.
Schnabels own private Basquiat in all its absurdity and poetry.
Of course, all this meta meta meta-reflection is not going to be news to most of the people who end up in STORE. On the contrary, it can all seem very familiar. So the questions arises: what is such theorising offering, because it's not a new insight? And, to the extent that is offering a model of implicativeness, what does this actually mean?
One answer is that such a film is part of a practice (Gander's) that involves a necessary, continued, relentless statement of its non-removed, implicated position, even, perhaps especially, past the point where such persistence seems ludicrous. Such playful art-self-awareness may be very familiar if you spend your time going to shows like this, but is constantly being absorbed into more normative frameworks. It becomes necessary to play a continual cat and mouse game. There is, too, a sense that by enacting this self-aware self-reflective framework in different kinds of work, one begins to invent an almost new-humanist position: seeing what kinds of presence transcend all the art-talk.
In Gander's Basquiat, for example, there is definitely a sense of presence, mystery and personality to the figure on the bike. Without the voice over there would be a genuine mystery and resonance to his cycles around Dulwich Park. Through the careful focus on facial expressions, the film creates a presence that eludes the texts persistent efforts to limit the image. Given my own declared interests, I'm wondering about the connection to Warhol's Screen Tests or Henry Geldzhaler.
But, of course, the film is more about a whole web of influences, and perhaps this is where Warhol comes in, as part of a whole culture that includes Basquiat, Gander, bicycles, Schnabel, Gander's gallerist, Victoria Park, and pyjamas. Viewed in this way, Basquiat is one slightly contradictory answer to the question Polly Staple asks in the October issue of Frieze, writing of the artist Seth Price:
What does it mean to have so acutely processed Andy Warhol, conceptual legacies of the 1960s and '70s, the dematerialization of the art object, failed Utopias, the 1980s (in their entirety), MTV, Colin de Land's American Fine Arts, Metro Pictures, Artforum, Smithson's arrested entropy and Serra's now spectacular weight, Feminism, semiotics, Baudrillard, global travel, terrorism, the turn of American imperialism and the right to freedom and self-expression? (251)