Despair, by Stephen Sutcliffe, selected by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Work by Stephen Sutcliffe
Selected by Hans Ulrich Obrist
Interview by Elizabeth Serlenga
The artist Stephen Sutcliffe (born in Harrogate, England and lives and works in Glasgow) uses exacting editing and collage to form his video work Despair. By employing existing cinema footage, interviews, and photographs of high society, Sutcliffe delivers his own take on the Nabokov novel by the same name. The novel's story line, full of duplicity, tragedy, and dark underpinnings, plays parallel to Sutcliffe’s highly orchestrated and layered piece. In the end the video is not a direct translation of the Nabokov's work, but draws additional inspiration from British society, intellect, and humor, from Monty Python to the poet Christopher Logue, with its seamless composition ultimately making for an equally dramatic and anxious amalgamation. Despair is a thoughtful dissection of influences and observation of culture, purposefully reframed through Sutcliffe’s cut-up.
Interview with artist Stephen Sutcliffe
Elizabeth Serlenga: You mentioned to curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in an interview that this video draws some inspiration from the German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and his film adaptation of the novel Despair by Nabokov (the novel which influenced your piece). Is this in a way homage to the story? Is it Nabokov’s tale that you are drawn to, or Fassbinder’s cinematic portrayal of it?
Stephen Sutcliffe: I have never seen Fassbinder’s film of Despair but I saw a couple of clips from it on another DVD. I had in mind the idea that I would make a video collage as a trailer for a film I had never seen and I am a big fan of Fassbinder's title sequences (which I consider works in themselves). So I took the structure from the blurb on the back of my Penguin copy of Nabakov’s novel, combining that with the idea of generating a trailer/title sequence that is wholly self-contained. I am more drawn to the literary style than to the content of the novel, so a key thing for me was trying to translate Nabokov’s idea of repeated “nerve points” into the work visually.
ES: I noticed the music in your video is from the soundtrack to the film Tous Les Matins Du Monde. Did this soundtrack provide the music for your whole piece? If so, why this music?
SS: I actually don’t like music at all so my use of it is generally parodic. My use of image and music is meant to reference the way that music is used to give emotional emphasis, sometimes falsely, to a piece of work. However, I found the two pieces from Tous Les Matins Du Monde (“The March” by Lully and “Badinage” by Marais) seemed to bookend the work very well though there is no essential reference to Tous le Matins Du Monde itself. In fact this is a little like unpicking the collage, which I am not always in favour of. Subconsciously, maybe I was drawn to the idea of doubling throughout the book and I may have made a connection between Marais passing off of Saint Colombe’s work for his own, and Hermann’s use of Felix as a stand in for his own death.
Topic 1: Contemporary Art, by Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, selected by Franklin Sirmans
Topic 1: Contemporary Art
Work by Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz
Selected by Franklin Sirmans
Interview by Jean Cooney
Topic 1: Contemporary Art is the first in a three-part video series featuring the sassy and outspoken Chuleta, created and played by Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz. Chuleta acts as a self-appointed correspondent between the arts community and the uninitiated, covering art theory and outlining the rules of the so-called white cube. Ultimately addressing what she sees as “the gap between the art world and the world like us, like people, like me and you,” Chuleta’s intentions mirror the aims of the artist herself: “The work I make isn’t exactly for everyone. Or maybe it is. Maybe it’s just the idea that the “everyone” I’m talking about is not the “everyone” that is counted as important.” Employing the ubiquitous aesthetic of a webcam to get the word out, each one of the “Ask Chuleta” performances becomes informal and intimate viral-video theater.
Interview with artist Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz
Jean Cooney: I found it incredibly refreshing to hear theory such as postmodernism and identity politics liberated from its academic context and given a new life through the everyday language of your character, Chuleta, in Topic One: Contemporary Art. In her critique of art world elitism and her genuine attempt to begin a discourse between “the white box community” and those who feel alienated by the white box, which group do you think Chuleta has more potential to reach?
Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz: I had originally intended it to be a two-fold dialogue, and in earlier moments, attempted to post the videos in places where everyday Latinos would see them with disastrous results (that means hate mail, etc). It was amazing to me the backlash but also I realized that the reasons why they didn't work were as follows:
a) folks didn't know I was a performance artist and therefore thought I was just this random chick spitting crap from her mouth and making Latinos look bad.
b) the videos themselves were seen out of context. No explanation whatsoever. Most average folks don't even consider institutional critique in their daily lives. They are too busy holding the institution together to even know what the hell I’m talkin about, much less care about it.
c) Unfortunately, most folks here in the United States are faced with racism on a constant basis and find themselves trying to defy the stereotypes in their daily lives (myself included). I would dare say that they have had it beaten into their heads to strive to be better so that you aren't ever labeled “That Latino”, or “That Spic” or “That nigga” etc etc. My videos sent folks reeling. It seems that folks were too hung up on my presentation to listen to what i had to say. Had it been framed as comedy, I am sure it would have been received differently. Truly eye opening.
ALL that to say that as of late, Chuleta has been talking DIRECTLY to the White Box crowd, calling out critics and Curators, the hypocrisy of the institution and the fickle nature of the business…. she has also taken it up on herself to rally artists of color to arms to create their own and not pander to the whims of the White Box… “I didnt make this for you” has been her mantra lol… and its been catching on lolol!
JC: Your choice to have Chuleta speaking directly to her audience through a webcam underscores the concept of this performance piece so brilliantly. Which came first, the creation of the character or the idea for this structure?
WR-O: They came together simultaneously actually. I used my webcam for the very first (and all since then) to record one of my Chuleta rants and the rest is, simply, history. It was simply the most practical way to work.
JC: With the internet providing easy access to video content, artists often lose control over how and where their video work is distributed and displayed. However, the viral video format of the Ask Chuleta pieces makes it feel almost natural to watch them online. What would be your ideal setting for an audience to experience these works?
WR-O: I reeeeeally like the viral nature of the videos and I love the freedom and randomness of viral video sharing. So it works well for me this way.. But as long as folks are watching, thinking, scheming, curating them.. I am happy.
Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz’s work was originally selected for Project 35 by LACMA’s Department Head and Curator of Contemporary Art, Franklin Sirmans. Throughout his career Sirmans has worked as an independent curator, critic, editor and writer, and prior to his appointment to the LACMA in 2010 Sirmans served as a curator of modern and contemporary art for the Menil Collection in Houston and curatorial advisor at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. In his synopsis of the Ask Chuleta series, Sirmans explains that by “using the easily accessible D.I.Y. aesthetic of much video art, Raimundi-Ortiz’s performance explores the televisual world in a realm between public-access cable television and the confessionals of reality TV.”
Interview with curator Franklin Sirmans
Jean Cooney: How do you feel Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz has utilized video in a way that distinguishes this work from other methods of artist’s video works that you’ve come across?
Franklin Sirmans: I first saw the videos on YouTube so to me Wanda was utilizing the best medium and the best system of distribution for her message. It was enlightening to read her answers about the work in other places. To me, the way she speaks so directly is so perfectly suited to the computer screen.
JC: It almost seems natural to view this piece via YouTube because of its viral video format, which brings up the question of display. Can you discuss the choices a curator must make while determining the exhibition of video works?
FS: Well, it’s always tough. I just try and go with the original intention of the artist. In this case, Wanda’s work is exactly about fitting into or not fitting into designated spaces. So it will work differently in different places, which to me is one very important factor in making a successful work of art. Wanda has done that no matter where the work plays—through her engaging character.
Alice in Wonderland, or Who is Guy Debord?, by Robert Cauble, selected by Raimundas Malasauskas
Alice in Wonderland, or Who is Guy Debord?
Work by Robert Cauble
Selected by Raimundas Malasauskas
Interview by Jean Cooney
Interview with artist Robert Cauble
As if Alice’s world wasn’t strange enough, video artist Robert Cauble spins a familiar fairytale into an even stranger story – in Cauble’s Wonderland, talking flowers cum rap artists thwart Alice’s inexplicable mission to find the French theorist Guy Debord before she is swept up and subjugated by a hyperactive music video. By hijacking a Disney classic, Cauble challenges our passive consumption of the moving image with the employment of the unpredictable and enchantingly absurd.
Jean Cooney: From what I understand, Alice in Wonderland or Who is Guy Debord? was originally intended as part of your Electrodist project to be embedded as a surprise special feature in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland DVDs. As your work has been and continues to be shown in an impressive list of international venues- through festivals and travelling exhibitions such as Project 35– which other modes of display do you feel best exhibits your work?
Robert Cauble: Yes, the video was intended as special feature on Disney’s Alice in Wonderland DVDs. They were made identical to the original Disney DVDs- except they included Alice in Wonderland or Who is Guy Debord? in the disc’s special features section. These DVDs were then swapped with the Disney originals at a number of video rental stores in 2003.
It’s impossible to know the reaction of the viewers who happened upon the video. Since all the credit was given to Walt Disney Home Video, there was no way for a viewer to contact me or anyone else who participated in the creation of the project, but perhaps there’s a five-year-old somewhere singing “Free the Passions and Never Work Y’all!”
Although, while like many works of public art this piece doesn’t fully achieve its original goal of creating an audience outside the art world, I think the gesture of sending the video off is an important part of its life as an artwork. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had about the video take this aspect of the work into consideration- and I prefer to think of the video as part original work and part documentation.
To answer your question more directly, I feel any mode of display that puts the work within a context that engenders some sort of critical discussion best exhibits the work.
JC: This video piece not only juxtaposes popular culture with lofty academic theory but allows them to become joyously intertwined. Can you talk about what led you to pair Alice in Wonderland and the Situationist theories of Guy Debord specifically?
RC: I don’t recall the initial impetus behind pairing Alice with Debord– but looking back I see a parallel between Alice’s search for Debord, and my own search for answers through his texts.
JC: The way in which you’ve reclaimed and reassembled popular cinema reminds me of early works of video artists in the 1970’s and their aims to subvert television’s previously unchallenged authority and critique our passive consumption of the moving image. Do you take inspiration from early video artists’ works at all or do you find inspiration elsewhere?
RC: I was inspired by work that was made around me at the time. There was a lot of creative energy put into ideas of retooling or creating subversive techniques that could be used to great effect when trying to reach otherwise unreceptive audience. Of these, the Carbon Defense League’s Game Boy hack and writings about Parasitic Media were certainly very influential- as were the Yes Men’s trickster techniques.
But the work that really stuck with me was Paul Chan’s poster series of Iraqi families. This was in 2003 during the “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad. Chan’s posters found their way onto bus stops and building walls. Casual snapshots, taken in Baghdad by the artist the year before, simply underscored by a line of text that specified the date and place the photographs were taken- I found them especially poignant. Although understated and unobtrusive, they managed to be direct and confrontational given the time and the place.
Dissonant, by Manon de Boer, selected by Lars Bang Larsen
Work by Manon de Boer
Selected by Lars Bang Larsen
Interviewed by Elena Berry
Interview with artist Manon de Boer
Artist Manon de Boer crafts a unique cinematic language defined by time, narrative, sound, and image. Her video piece, Dissonant combines documentarian aspects of portraiture with re-conceived structures of sound and music to explore how its notions transform cinematic perception. Central to this work is the dancer, Cynthia Loemij, whose improvised movements allow the film to capture the nature of memory and explore the elements of performance. De Boer is known for her experimentation with sound, image, and the conditions of cinema. Through Dissonant, De Boer amplifies this intricate play and invites the viewer revisit the process of looking and listening through the medium of film.
Elena Berry: In Dissonant, a 16mm film is used to capture Leomij’s performance. What was the purpose in choosing this method of filming? Was the film meant to be displayed in 16mm? Did you know the work would be exhibited as a video?
Manon de Boer: The purpose to use the 16 mm film was because I wanted to include the aspect of the duration of a 16 mm film reel of ± 3 minutes in the way sound and image have their own duration. The sound always continues, but the image is fragmented in three parts having the length of a 3 min. 16 mm film reel. In between the parts where there's no image the film is black but the sound continuous. The parts when the film is black and the sound continues are the parts when the film reel is changed. The primary mode of presentation is 16 mm. I sometimes show it as video, but it's not the best way to see the film.
EB: I was entranced by the fluid, yet aggressive, movements of Cynthia Leomij. Was there a particular reason in choosing this specific choreographed work for Loemij to perform?
MB: She improvised on the music you first hear. Since she has a career of more than 20 years at the dance group Rosas of Anna Teresa de Keersmaecker, she has developed her own dance language. When she's improvising like this I very much see a kind of physical memory of her life as a dancer, which she uses to create something like this.
Episode 3: Tang Da Wu – The Most Radical Gesture, from 4 x 4 – Episodes of Singapore Art, by Ho Tzu Nyen, selected by Weng Choy Lee
Episode 3: Tang Da Wu – The Most Radical Gesture, from 4 x 4 – Episodes of Singapore Art
Work by Ho Tzu Nyen
Selected by Weng Choy Lee
Interviewed by Jessica Wallen
Interview with artist Ho Tzu Nyen
Ho Tzu Nyen is a painter, video and installation artists living and working in Singapore. In 2005, he completed 4 x 4 – Episodes of Singapore Art, an attempt to shift his practice from object-based art to the production of more ‘discursive events’. The project included four short films scripted and directed by Tzu Nyen that represented historical moments in art. These were aired on a public television channel, Arts Central. In Ho Tzu Nyen's third episode of 4 x 4: Episodes of Singapore Art, entitled The Most Radical Gesture, he layers narrative over narrative to recount what happened when performance artist Tang Da Wu presented the President of Singapore with a sincere message. Episode 3 is not a documentary, but a mock 'making of' a documentary that uses humor and irony to uncover an important relationship between artist, patron, and art.
Jessica Wallen: In Episode 3: Tang Da Wu – The Most Radical Gesture, from 4 x 4 – Episodes of Singapore Art, you reinterpret and recount an important moment in Singapore's art history. Is it important to you that this narrative will have one resonance for a local viewership, and another for an international audience, or do you think that there are certain ways that the two are actually one in the same?
Ho Tzu Nyen: I tend to think of resonances as something that is never uniform – at the level of individuals, rather than at the unit of the “local” and the “international”. I like to think that the difference in resonance will exist across individuals – be they Singaporean or 'international'.
JW: Does documentation of the actual event exist? Do you consider video art to be an important factor in recording and accessing these histories and if so, how?
HTN: Photographic and textual documentation of the actual event do exist. For me, my usage of video has very little to do with the work of recording or accessing history, though I'm happy if others find such a use for it. I think of what I do to be “fictional” in nature in the sense that it is art fiction, rather than art history. It is related to art history in the same way that science fiction is related to science.
JW: The 4 x 4 project from 2005 represents a shift in your practice from object-based art to film. What drew you to video?
HTN: My first video work was actually Utama – Every Name in History is I in 2003, which consisted of both a film, and a series of paintings. Most of my subsequent works were just videos or films. There seems to be so much we can experiment within the moving image that I just found myself being completely immersed in it. At the same time, there is something about making videos that I found fascinating – namely that they took up very little space – storage is easy. It is a silly kind of dematerialization, I guess.
JW: Do you find that there are advantages or challenges specific to this medium?
HTN: This goes into the mode of reception for videos and films – having just temporal form, but not spatial form – at least with single channel videos – which is my preferred mode of presentation. The work just seems less imposing, and doesn't try so hard to get noticed. I like the fact that it offers the spectator a choice – of whether or not to engage with it.
Interview with curator Weng Choy Lee
Episode 3, Tang Da Wu: The Most Radical Gesture was chosen for Project 35 by art Singapore-based curator and critic, Weng Choy Lee. Before his current post as the Director of Projects, Research, and Publications at the Osage Art Foundation, he was Artistic Co-Director of the Substation Arts Center in Singapore. His writings on art and culture have been widely published. In conversation with Lee we discover why this piece is one of his favorites.
Jessica Wallen: Ho Tzu Nyen's Episode 3: Tang Da Wu – The Most Radical Gesture, from 4 x 4 – Episodes of Singapore Art is brilliantly self-referential. Was it the political content in the piece, the comical meta-narrative used to recount the event, or a combination of both that drew you to this work?
Weng Choy Lee: Episode 3 is a big favourite for me — I should say first and foremost how much pleasure I have in watching it, in thinking about it, and in writing about it. I also think it's an important work of art, because it has something to say. The political situation that is referred to in the piece — the Singapore state's actions against performance art in the 1990s, is historically very significant, and Tzu Nyen's work sheds a lot of insight into those issues (albeit not as a documentary, but as a work of art). However, the piece also makes a larger point about the politics of art.
I have written how Episode 3 is not quite a documentary on Tang’s supposedly infamous performance — the one where he approached the president of Singapore at a major art event, put on a jacket that had the words “Don’t Give Money to the Arts” embroidered on the back, and gave him a card saying, “Dear Mr President, I am an artist and I am important”. Rather, we get “the making of” that documentary instead. Even then — set against a theatrical white cube/ white screen of an empty film studio or art gallery — this “making of” unfolds through interruptions and repetitions, digressions and corrections, as the assistant and her director argue constantly over the meaning of Tang’s art.
Episode 3 reaches its climax when the director loses his cool. The assistant has been repeatedly obstructing the film shoot, by changing the script and interjecting her own commentary about the politics of Tang’s performance. In a fury, the director yells “cut”, and, lecturing her, demands:
“Now what is the most radical gesture within this performance? … Is it because this was a performance carried out right at the very heart of the authorities, before the head of the state, and yet nobody knew it — as though Tang Da Wu had somehow outsmarted and outwitted everybody?… I don’t think so. I think it is radical precisely because everyone knew it was a performance — and, and yet they had allowed it to happen, right before them…. And for this to happen — the most radical gesture of the entire performance is this — that before he puts on the jacket, he asks the President: ‘Mr President, will you allow me to put on the jacket?’ It is through this small, simple act of … politeness, of regard for the other — that is to me the most radical gesture within this whole performance.”
Tang’s performance is profoundly ironic. But if it is a performance of the failed relationship between artist and the state, then it is also a performance of an unrequited desire. Can anything more succinctly express such yearning than the ambiguous statement, “Don’t Give Money to the Arts”? Could it have been delivered any more sincerely? Perhaps just as Tang is most sincere, so too is Tzu Nyen in expressing his regard for Tang’s performance. Tzu Nyen’s mode of address may be ironic throughout the entire series of 4 x 4, yet when he has the director say that “this small, simple act … of regard for the other” — do we not suppose it is Tzu Nyen himself speaking here? That he believes this fundamental regard for the other is, in truth, the most radical gesture, not only of Tang’s performance, but for any work of art?
Episode 3, while ostensibly a documentary on art, is less about an art work, than a performance of regard, a speaking to art, both in the singular (Tang’s work) and in the universal, to Art with the capital A.
JW: Episode 3 was a part of a project that included three separate elements: a forum discussion; a foldable postcard cube for distribution; and a television series, which was aired on Singapore’s Arts Central channel. Curatorially speaking, how does the exhibition of the video piece change when exhibited autonomously and presented in a variety of scales and contexts, as opposed to locally, and with all of the accompanying programming?
WCL: Tzu Nyen has, on a few occasions, made a film, but made it in the context of a larger installation or exhibition project. Two notable examples are 4 x 4 — Episodes of Singapore Art and Utama — Every Name in History is I.
In Utama, Tzu Nyen re-tells the tale of the founding of Singapore; he presents us with an open-ended series of origins for this impossible island, named “Lion City” in Sanskrit, in a region where no lions exist. Utama was first presented in 2003 as an installation of paintings and a nearly half-hour digital-video film. Its subject, Prince Sang Nila Utama, as legend would have it, founded Singapore around the 14th century. He pointed at the land, and named it after the beast which he allegedly shot with an arrow. The paintings, which mimic 18th- and 19th-century European artworks, portray Utama alongside several renowned pioneers and conquerors, including Stamford Raffles, Alexander the Great, and Vasco de Gama — all modelled on the film’s two principle actors. Every image of each historical personality appears to substitute for one another. The paintings are like film stills, and the film, a painting-cum-moving picture. Utama has since been re-presented in different incarnations: sometimes featuring only the film, or with different paintings, and sometimes as a film plus performance lecture.
Since its first presentation in the fall of 2005, 4 x 4 has circulated I think mainly in bootleg versions amongst friends and within the arts community. It hasn't had many more public viewings in Singapore. I have presented clips from Episode 3 many times when I am invited overseas to give talks on contemporary art in Singapore. With 4 x 4, the TV episodes are clearly the main part of the work. The forum and the postcard cube are less important.
With Utama, the paintings may not be as well known, or even well liked (by curators, artists or critics), but they are certainly something. So while the variations of its presentation may make sense, they are also considerable. There's a significant difference between seeing the film along with paintings, and just seeing the film. Indeed, in its initial installation at The Substation gallery in Singapore, the whole installation was likened to Plato's Cave. With the film room signifying the deepest parts of the Cave, and the open window at the opposite end of the gallery signifying the entrance into the “real” world. The gallery of paintings was like a transitional zone.
With Utama, it makes perfect sense for a story about repetitions, substitutions and permutations to be itself repeated and mutated. So its various versions are all of a piece. Indeed, Tzu Nyen's work often addresses the mutablity of history, and of art, so the fact that his work gets re-presented regularly is, again, part of the point.
I haven't really answered the question about how a video or film work changes when the contexts of its presentation change. I have only spoken about the particulars of two film/video works, and how they have been conceived to change and be re-presented in different contexts. What I'm implying is that it's hard to talk generally about contemporary film and video, which is so diverse, even disparate. So my answer can only be limited to specific examples, but I think that's how one might want to think curatorially — by working through the details of the individual art works at hand, and not to try and think of a general rule.
Screening of Project 35. Press to Exit project space, 2010.
Interview with Yane Calovski of Press to Exit
Press to Exit project space was established in September 2004 by Yane Calovski and Hristina Ivanoska as a special program-based artist initiative for research and production in the field of visual arts and curatorial practices. The project received a mandate from November 2004 until December 2008 from the Swiss Cultural Programme in South East Europe and Ukraine to undertake a critical examination and evaluation of the questions raised by contemporary artists, curators, architects and theorists in Macedonia, the Balkan region and beyond, in relation to contemporary society and the practice of art.
Jessica Wallen: How did you come to present Project 35 in your space?
Yane Calovski: I met Kate Fowle during a research visit to Stockholm in the fall 2009. In one of our conversations she told me about the project and how excited she was about doing something with a sense of collaboration and urgency. I liked the idea and her energy, and shortly after I was sent the concept and asked to select an artist and a work. I selected Daniela Paes Leao, a Portuguese artists that lives and works in Amsterdam, whose work I find very important and deserving to b