Cerith Wyn Evans, Firework Text (Pasolini) 1999. Courtesy the artist and White Cube, London.
SIX TUESDAYS AFTER FILM AS A CRITICAL PRACTICE: Cerith Wyn Evans and Ian White in Conversation, Lux 28, 10 Feb 2009.
The conversation takes place in the dark. A lamp is turned on when someone needs to read. There they are, A and B. When they start talking a projection of Tony Conrad's The Flicker begins, lighting their faces and the wall behind with its black-white pulsing. Later in the evening, the projection will be Paul Sharits Ray Gun Virus.
How to write about this event? Take, for example, B's love of gossip, implied or direct put-downs, and arch one liners. How to capture their tone and avoid offending their subjects and demonising the speaker? Maybe stage directions.
Not that B would particularly mind the demonic aspect: he ended the session by asking us all to praise Satan, Lord of Darkness. I think this was unplanned, but the rest was a deliberate set of choices about how to engage audience, career, biography and ideas (demonically).
Nothing is planned about this conversation. If there's a pedagogy of the flicker, it is how the interesting emerges in the interstitial. The evenings structure is about finding this space through conversation, rather than it being solely in the flow of film frames through the projector.
Or, as A said to B, lit in the flow of Conrad-flicker: you are all face and no body.
Such improvisation, however, always needs some structure. B began by reading Changing Light at Sandover, a James Merrill poem composed through the Ouji board.
We're being lit by a flicker film. Everyone should make one. It creates an uncertainty about your room and your body. It critiques structuralist materialism. Those radical old Marxists were witches... P is a witch and works according to his own magic...
... The loss of the body is a serious issue. I'm interested in wilful difficulty... The intention is to make a film that is only shown once. It's a mass reproducible media, but I'll just make one. Obviously this is perverse - like making a silk screen in an edition of one...
... This has a troubling relationship to democracy...
Cerith Wyn Evans, In Girium Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni. Installation view, Tate 2006.
B didn't want to just be asked questions. He wanted to do some asking. What's the purpose of these evenings? he said, suddenly, the film over, vanished into darkness once again.
A: Does there need to be a purpose? No objective. Just a desire for a continuing conversation.
But, said B, the image is so virulent, standardised, out of our hands. I feel old and fusty... it's like a witches covern at Lux 28. So I'll talk to you about personal history. When I was a student all these people at St. Martins were welding one beam to another beam to make a right angle...
.... I always felt life was somewhere else...I was terrified of P. Everyone hated P. He was like white noise. Look at the moving image now in relation to alchemy. To Deren and to Jean Cocteau. Where are we now in relation to cinema? Personally, I'm all for terrible recidivist nostalgia...
Maybe this was a novel in which A and B were both question and answer, storyteller and theoretician, thesis and antithesis, print-on-demand and The Folio Society. Which meant tension. B, for example, was most verbose when telling familiar when-I-was-at-the-Royal-College-of-Art-with-P anecdotes. To which A would respond: Yes. But. And?
B never committed himself to any sustained investigation.
B knew theory was but a light switch away. Why sit in the dark if you didn't have something to hide? Lots of reasons.
Perhaps B wanted to keep in flux, like Yoko Ono at Tate Britain, measuring her academic interlocutor with a tape measure. But sharp wit, please, not New Age mumbo-jumbo, or we will never find the light switch.
B's phone rings. It is Anselm Kiefer's wife, again, and he reads us the message - lunch on Thursday? Then B played us a song off his i-phone to illustrate the concept of duende as it applied to flicker films.
The song ended. It was followed by a highly inappropriate medley of Joni Mitchell material that it was impossible to turn off without first evacuating the building.
Ask me a question. Go on.
Ask me about class.
This question. Am I respond to it conceptually or biographically?
Cerith Wyn Evans, Cleave 01, 2001. Neon systems, halogen lamp, shutter, PC, text of Pier Paulo Pasolini. Dimensions variable.
I respond biographically.
I respond angrily.
I respond rudely.
And you say I should think about it conceptually.
About class and how it relates.
To objects and non-objects.
About class and spaces.
Ask me a question.
The space of the film and of the gallery.
A Welsh working class family.
Is our talk itself a work of art? Don't get me started. The Channel Five weatherman now calls what he does Live Art. We'll just have to wait and see if this turns up as a Tate installation in next years Turner Prize exhibition. Sorry Mark.
Ideas made into space but not objects. Objects made into space but not ideas. Exhibitions without physical form. Lectures that are actually trees in drag. Yeah yeah.
Maybe if you dream Jay Joplin likes it then it's a work of art.
Maybe B relaxed as the piece went on. Or, he realised curfew was approaching at Lux 28, and there wouldn't be time for starting any new strands of serious questioning. I think the later.
B could move along the surface, never catching on sharp stones, shrapnel free, worrying about his teeth. B enjoyed the challenging of being in public, and being private, but being public privately. This he guarded:
I think of myself as outside the class system. I'm extremely privileged. I loathe class as an idea... vulgar idea... trade unionists are vulgar... as bad as the aristocracy...
Cinema is an errant space. Could be possible to cause some trouble. Culture is personal. I would be devastated if I heard Las Meninas had been destroyed, or the high heels of Genesis P. Orridge, or that someone had stolen the toggles off Gustav Metzger's duffle coat.
If someone had left a banana skin on Lou Reed's doorstep and he broke his ankle... what is the best case scenario for these evenings? Anything better than conjecture?
I don't feel I've said anything interesting at all. (ASKING THE DARKNESS) Why are you here?
No art needs money. The credit crunch is not the problem of artists.
Witchcraft and cinema are about a spell. The ingredients to make a spell. It's alchemical, about light and dark.
Witches and magicians were demonised and set aside.
And the robes look great, of course.