While i was at the LABoral in Gijón for the opening of the exhibition Active Presence (review coming soon on this very screen), i got a chance to check out the art center's other show: eCLIPSe: [retro]perspective of the music video in 50 steps.
The title says it all. 50 milestones in the history of music videos. From Bohemian Rhapsody to Alva Noto's Uni Acronym. Sitting in an art center to watch video clips that anyone else can open on youtube is exciting and seditious. Seditious because video clips -unlike much of what you can see in museums nowadays- are not only part of mainstream culture, they also wouldn't think of hiding their mercantile purpose. Exciting because although we might have seen all these videos before, watching them on a big screen forces us to realize that they probably are the most democratic point of entry to video art and more generally to audiovisual culture.
Carlos Navarro (curator of the exhibition in collaboration with Rubin Stein) writes: In our view, it should be included within the visual arts as a separate discipline. In some cases it should even be viewed as avant-garde, though at times it admittedly makes compromises with the commercialism and function a music video must inevitably serve, which is to sell a song, a band or a singer. Surprisingly enough, many of the advances made in the visual mise en scène of art forms enjoying such unquestionable respect as film were originally conceived and rehearsed in music videos. And even the narrative rhythm of the video has set standards for spectators. Likewise, we ought to underscore its inextricable bond with the language of advertising.
The exhibition was a crash course in music video for me. I grew up glued to MTV, got tired of it in the early 1990s and completely lost touch with the discipline in the process. I will therefore be forever grateful to the curators of the show for making me discover this brilliant video:
eCLIPSe charts the evolution of the music video genre. From the early days when musicians themselves were involved in the creation of their own videos (e.g. David Bowie for Ashes to Ashes), to the role that MTV played since its creation in 1981 in making the video the compulsory counterpart of a song, to the ascent of special effects, infographics and digital technologies, to the counter tendency towards amateurism (see Fatboy Slim's Praise You), to the entrance of online platform for file exchange that opened up windows for exhibiting and viewing videos worldwide, etc.
Because the exhibition was so unexpected, i wanted to talk to the main curator of the exhibition: audiovisual producer, scriptwriter and director Carlos Navarro.
Hola Carlos! My first curiosity is about Bohemian Rhapsody. You wrote that this is the first video clip ever made. What makes it so special? What did the video of Queen have that other musical videos didn't? What is so revolutionizing about it?
Although many experts regard Queen's video as the first self-conscious video made with the purpose of 'selling' a song, it is certain that the relationship between music and images comes from afar. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the artistic avant-garde was already playing with these two disciplines. Picabia or Schöenberg, for example, were using that language. Movies by Walt Disney, especially "Fantasia", were already exploring this relationship. And later, the musical movies of The Beatles can be regarded as authentic music clips. However, the importance of Bohemian Rhapsody lays in the intention expressed by Bruce Gowers and Queen to use images to sell the song, the disk and the band and ultimately in its objective to create a new promotional support.
I have to be honest and admit that both I and Rubin Stein, who worked with me on the selection of the works, were often influenced by our personal tastes, not so much in terms of music but for more strictly 'cinematographic' reasons.
This doesn't mean that we haven't devoted much time to the 'theoretical' study of the historical importance of the exhibited works. Nevertheless, what was non-negotiable during the curating process was that our selection had to be unique, different from the ones made in similar exhibitions. Hence, the choice of dedicating two monographs to Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham. While the historical part arises from the study of the literature on the subject, the decision to add monographs is entirely personal and is founded on concerns that interest me as a narrator and professional of the audiovisual. In a nutshell, in the first phase we behaved like 'bookworms' and in the second one as film directors.
Although the selection of works for an exhibition is always debatable, i'd like to claim that "SON TODAS LAS QUE ESTÁN, AUNQUE NO ESTÉN TODAS LAS QUE SON". I don't know if you have a similar expression in english, sorry.
That's a tricky one to translate, but i guess the idea is that 'All the videos selected belong to the show, but not all the video clips that belong to the show are in the selection.'
Isn't there something a bit subversive in bringing popular video clips inside a museum/art space? Why do you think they have their place in a space dedicated to contemporary art?
Introducing an art traditionally considered 'minor' in the sacrosanct space of an art gallery was precisely the main reason behind this show - at least for me! The problem of video clips is that we are now used to watching them on a tv or computer screen where they are always subjected to multiple factors that prevent us from giving them our full attention. During their TV broadcasts we could watch them just before an advert for a washing powder, or right after an ad for a bier, or else as part of music program that wouldn't necessarily differentiate a mainstream clip from an authentic music video artwork. In the end, there's always been a lot of "noise" around the video clip. Exhibiting video clips in a museum space grants them a formality that forces us to pay further attention, and thus discover all its content. In the case of the monographs, it makes us realize the obsessions and recurrent themes of a creator which, in my view, places the director of music video in the category of visual artist.
Finally, have you discovered any new video clip since the show opened that makes you think "damn! this video clip is so fantastic i wish i could add it to the show now!"?
Yes, this is always the case. Even the day after we had closed the selection, new works emerged that i wish i could have added. But an exhibition like this one comes with "auto frustration" otherwise it would have been impossible to close it or put a limit to it: why 50 clips rather than 60? Or even 100?
We would have liked to include a clip of the new trend called "interactive", such as I´ve seen Footage by Death Grips or some of The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment videos that Sigur Rós have proposed to illustrate their last album. However, the logistical difficulties of doing so were important.
In any case we are very proud of this selection although, of course, we know that it remains open for debate.
The exhibition closed a few days ago but it will travel with Fundación Telefónica to venues in Latin America, i'll keep you posted about the dates and locations via twitter and the blog's facebook page. In the meantime, you can find more information in the press kit.
First turn off the lights and watch this film full screen if you haven't seen it already. We can talk later...
David O'Reilly is a film director, an artist and i'm not going to add that he's a genius because everybody's done that already, including me after i first saw his work at Pictoplasma Berlin back in 2007. The External World had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2010 and was shown a few months later at Sundance. It has since won numerous awards. Another of his most admired short films, Please Say Something, received the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival. The film was the only animated film to win the title since Pixar's first short film.
But before i go any further, let me point you to Octocat. It's my favourite and I've watched it 4 times today. I can't get enough of the stupid voice ("Mmmh That looks like some chicken. Mmmh I'm just gonna eat. Mmmh, that's delicious!")
O'Reilly's stripped down 3D animation films treat cute and/or bonker characters in a rather brutal way. He doesn't do adorable. he can at best stretch to bitter-sweet (see the video for U2's song I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight.)
David O'Reilly is going to give a talk in New York in early November as part of the Pictoplasma conference. And because I've never been shy about professing my love for Pictoplasma, i'm going to do exactly what i did last year: run a series of interviews with some of the speakers in the run-up to the event.
O'Reilly's interview is the first one to go online but don't hold your breath! He's not one to reveal much!
I almost fell from my chair when i saw the list of awards your animations have received over only a few years. All of them are deserved of course but since you've shown your work at major movie festivals such as Sundance, Berlinale or the Venice festival, i've been wondering why you have never been tempted to adopt the super protective behavior of many film makers. Instead, you let anyone watch your films for free on the internet. Why not just put a trailer, an extract and ask people to pay if they want to see the whole film? What do you gain from putting your film online?
The idea with releasing things online is you hopefully gain an audience. You might make a little bit of money if you charge for your short film, but at the expense of potentially millions of eyeballs.
I've never been really protective about my short films, it always seemed normal to put them online and then move on to the next one. I had actually been making animations for years before ever entering a festival, I never saw the point of going to all the trouble of sending out DVDs and filling out forms. I also (correctly) thought most of them were really bad.
You work on both the story and the animation of your short films. Have you ever dreamt of collaborating with someone for the scenario part of a film? He or she would would come up with the story and you'd just illustrate it? And if you had your pick, who would that scenarist be?
I have been writing almost everything I do with Vernon Chatman for the last 2.5 years. He's a much more experienced writer than me and has taught me a lot but we're a good team. I'm not sure about illustrating someone else's script but I'd love to adapt Chris Ware's work, I think he is amazing.
Do you get to look at the work of artists working in other fields (painting, music, video, etc.) a lot and do you draw inspiration from them? Whose work do you admire?
I know a lot of geniuses whose work I really admire - Vernon, Jason Woliner, Steve Ellison, Willie Bensussen, Eric Wareheim, Tim Biskup, Adam Buxton, Garth Jennings, Jon Klassen, Gregg Turkington, Mr.Doob, Aaron Koblin and others.
Any advice you could give to young illustrators / students who would like to be as successful as you are?
I would not give any advice yet as there is usually a strong possibility I will be homeless every 6 months.
What are you going to present at Pictoplasma?
I will hopefully talk about the small projects that I do in-between the big ones. Ways to stay occupied when you are tired and feel useless, that kind of thing. Also secrets... many secrets.
Catch up with David at Pictoplasma NYC conference on November 2 and 3 at Parsons the new school for design.
I entered the cinema wondering how much i'd enjoy a computer animated homage to a genius born exactly 100 years ago and i got out of the screening obsessed with everything Turing. I spent the weeks that followed reading everything i could about the 'father of the computer'.
The short(-ish) film narrates and speculates on the last days of Alan Turing. I knew Turing as the genius who had successfully worked on cracking German ciphers at Bletchley Park during the WWII, as a man who has defined the basics of computer science, and developed the eponymous Turing test, which sets a standard for a machine to be called "intelligent".
Turing's name was therefore little more than synonymous with a landmark in the history of computer. I wasn't aware of his personal life so i was shocked to see him portrayed as a broken man about to (maybe?) commit suicide. 2 years before his death, Turing was indeed found guilty of "gross indecency", because of his sexual relationship with another man. Homosexual acts being illegal in the UK at that time, Turing was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He opted for hormonal treatment. The conviction also led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the British signals intelligence agency.
As the directors write: Our film tells the legendary myth that thinking machines in the future will make about their creator's life; an emotional story about how one of Britain's greatest scientists ended up in a very dark place, because the country which he helped save from fascism, chemically castrated him because he was gay.
This is the background for a film that intertwines Turing's dreams, a therapy session with his psychologist and a couple of intelligent machines looking for their father.
The focus on the session with the German therapist is particularly fascinating. As the film directors explained in the Q&A that followed the screening, Turing arrived in Manchester as an entirely rational and logical man and because his therapist, Dr Franz Greenbaum, was using Jungian psychology and encouraged Turing to write a dream diary, the mathematician was suddenly confronted with the irrational and the unconscious.
The film certainly explores this irrationality, suggesting that after all, being irrational is part of human intelligence.
The Creator is a clever and moving film that not only celebrates the tragic life of a man we owe so much to but also reminds us that Turing is still waiting for an official and posthumous pardon.
Cornerhouse uploaded the video of the Q&A with the film makers. Don't miss it, their passion for Turing is contagious. Bonus! The irresistible accent of one of the artists.
The Creator will be screened again at the Cornerhouse, on Thu 30 Aug, at 15:50 as part of the AND festival.
Abandon Normal Devices (AND), the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art will run from August 29 until September 2.
Five years ago, three artists legally changed their name to Janez Janša and joined the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS.) So far, so almost normal. Except that Janez Janša is also he name of the leader of the party and Prime Minister of Slovenia. Suddenly there were more Janez Janšas acting together within the same physical and media space.
Their experience is being turned into the documentary My Name Is Janez Janša in which individuals, artists and academics ponder about the meaning and purpose of one's name from both private and public perspectives.
A debate arose in the media and art circles around the three Janez Janša's artistic gesture: What was its intent and significance? Was it a political critique? A work of activism? Pure provocation?
Followers of the politicians didn't leave much space for discussion and subtlety when they launched a defamatory campaign and declared that My Name Is Janez Jansa was little more than a work of pornography. The cover of a recent issue of the conservative magazine Reporter illustrates the manoeuvre (the still images published on the cover are actually from Bruce La Bruce and Rick Castro's movie Hustler White which has been quoted in My Name Is Janez Janša.)
The artists have now opened a crowdfunding call to ensure that they'll be able to finish the post-production of the film and distribute it widely.
I contacted the three Janez Janša, asked them to tell us more about the movie, the name change, the defamatory campaign and immediately realized that they haven't lost any of their sense of humour in the process:
It's been 5 years already since you decided to change your names (Davide Grassi, Emil Hrvatin, and Žiga Kariž) to Janez Janša, the same name as the Prime Minister of Slovenia. I'm sure you were expecting that it would have an impact on your everyday life but what were the effects of the new names on your work as an artist?
Janez Janša: Let me correct you first. My legal name is Janez Janša while the politician's legal name is IVAN Janša. He has been called Janez since his childhood, but he never changed his legal name into Janez Janša.
Janez Janša: Interestingly enough, when he appears in front of the court, as he is involved in many legal cases, he does it with his legal name Ivan Janša while in his political life, when he represents Slovenia, when he signs state documents, he uses a pseudonym, Janez Janša.
Janez Janša: I was expecting him to change his legal name in the same name we have, Janez Janša.
What has the experience brought you?
Janez Janša: My life didn't change because of the name changing. I still live the same kind of life and my artistic work is still my main profession.
Janez Janša: Shakespearean Juliet maintains that the name of the rose does not affect the sweetness of the rose itself. Yet, it is right my new name that makes now other people smell me different.
Janez Janša: The name is what you put forward when you introduce yourself to others. It streams your figure into public life. Other people use your name much more than you do. When you change your name, you don't change yourself. You change your "interface". That is why your name change affects other people more than it does affect you.
Janez Janša: ...as one's death. It affects more relatives and friends than the one who actually died.
How do you feed the discoveries and experiences of the past 5 years into your work as artists?
Janez Janša: They basically feed by themselves into our work as artists because the name change practically merged our art with our life.
I read this afternoon in El Pais that the documentary had faced censorship. Can you explain us what happened exactly?
Janez Janša: This issue around our documentary is far from being over so I wouldn't use the pass tense here. It is rather difficult to summarize the whole story. Maybe the best is if you can point your readers to the on-line document that contains the chronology of facts. Then they can make up their minds about the issue. I'm not even sure I will call this a case of censorship. It's more a case of "preventive media pillorying", an attempt to disqualify the work in front of the public opinion before it even get released...
Janez Janša: ...this way creating conditions for the public opinion to easily accept the censorship that might follow. The rhetoric used for achieving this goal is of a very populist kind. All the media close to the conservative government agree to define the movie as a "merely pornographic" and "highly offensive" product. A kind of "art" that shouldn't be allowed any further to be supported and produced with taxpayers money.
Janez Janša: The funny thing is that all the discrediting arguments are based on "something" that "somebody heard" that "someone else has seen". No one of the journalists attacking us has actually seen the work as the movie is not even finished yet.
But were you not expecting to be challenged and criticized when you decided that the 3 of you would adopt the name of the PM of Slovenia and join his own party? Surely that gesture must have been interpreted as a political position? And probably not as one that pays homage to his person and politics? How did he react to it?
Janez Janša: The first reaction by the Prime Minister was silence, and his silence was a very clear reaction. There was a lot of speculation in the media whether our name change is to be understood as a gesture of support or criticism to the politician.
Janez Janša: It is only in February 2011 that Janša, at the time the leader of the opposition, commented on our gesture. In an interview he gave for the 1st channel of the National Radio he said that he was receiving invitations to appear in front of the court and invoices for fines related to crimes we've done.
Janez Janša: After Janša made his public statement also conservative media and intellectuals started to comment on our name change especially highlighting the way public money were spent and for which kind of "politicized art". Some of the progressive critic instead maintained that by changing our names we helped the politician to himself to the public under a better light. Other accused us of doing a mere marketing operation to gain more visibility and therefore get more money.
Janez Janša: But all of them basically agreed on the fact that this name change would be a short exploit in our careers and that soon we will all change our names back, or further.
Janez Janša: Well, they were right, at least in my case. I've changed back my name to Žiga Kariž in January 2009 and now I'm still using Janez Janša as a pseudonym especially when I do some work with these two guys, Janez Janeša and Janez Janša...
Thank you Janez Janša!
The documentary My Name Is Janez Janša is in its post-production phase, and it needs financial strengthening. Help the artists finish the film and reach worldwide audience.
A belated review of the exhibition Jeremy Deller - Joy in People...
It's always daunting to write about an exhibition that so many articles have commented on already. We've all read that Jeremy Deller won the Turner Prize in 2004. That he has never been a good drawer nor a talented painter. In fact, his teacher strongly advised against art school (a suggestion i fully understand if Deller is to blame for the mural painted behind the screen that shows the documentary So Many Ways to Hurt You, the Life and Times of Adrian Street, see photo below.)
Jeremy Deller does art outside galleries. It thrives in 'low culture' and it is usually ambitious, socially-engaged and unexpected. Indeed, most of his career is built on looking for art in the most unpredictable places, working with the public or with people who have particular knowledge or skill but who wouldn't otherwise be associated with the contemporary art world. They include unemployed miners, brass bands, a campaign banner maker, fans of Depeche Mode, a glam rock wrestler, experts in battle re-enactments, etc. He even collaborated on an art project with nightclub owner and trendsetter Peter Stringfellow.
In late February, a retrospective of Jeremy Deller's work opened at the Hayward gallery. It is called Joy in People and joy is precisely what it brings.
It should be tricky to exhibit the work of Jeremy Deller, an artist who doesn't produce artefacts but experiences, happenings and interventions. Out there. In the streets. Neither you nor i were there. Consequently, the show includes many videos and video documentation of some of his works. But there's also a reconstruction of Valerie's snack bar in Bury market, Lancashire. You can sit down and get a free cup of tea. There are people hired to read texts to make you melancholic, people on hand to discuss their experience of war in Iraq, t-shirts, photos of his 'failed' artworks, an introduction the world of re-enactment aficionados, music videos, magazines, a replica of Deller's teenage bedroom where he organized a solo show while his parents were on holiday, etc. Many art critics wrote that it was all a bit 'second hand'. But if it was, it was good enough for me. I spent a whole afternoon visiting Joy in People. I'll probably go back before the show closes.
Most of the works on show are very well documented already but i'm going to highlight two that i found most irresistible.
The show had a whole section, titled My Failures, that documents the projects Deller never realized.
One of them is a proposal for Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth. Deller wanted to place on top of the plinth a life-size model of Dr David Kelly, the biological warfare expert who committed suicide in 2003 following the media frenzy provoked by his comments on the British government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
'I had two ideas for the Fourth Plinth that I suggested to the committee, the first was for a destroyed car from Baghdad - a victim of the Iraq occupation - called "Spoils of War (Memorial for an Unknown Civilian)". The other was going to be a mannequin of Dr David Kelly [who committed suicide in 2003 following the controversy his comments on the British government's dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq] just sitting on the edge of the plinth, facing Whitehall, because some people may have forgotten who he was. They were both ways of deflating the meaning or effect of public sculpture, basically to act as an antidote to the sculpted men who had done things in battle.'
I wish So Many Ways to Hurt You, the Life and Times of Adrian Street was available online somewhere (there's only a short extract of the film.) So Many Ways to Hurt You documents the life of glam rock wrestler Adrian Street Street was born into a coal mining family in Wales in 1940. He was sent down the mine at a very young age, fled to London at 16 to pursue a career as a model for bodybuilding magazines and professional wrestler. One day he realized that the way to stardom was through a glam rock persona that would tap into the homophobia of the macho wrestling world. And so he started designing and cutting his own costumes, wearing garish make-up and extravagant platinum hair-dos. He'd blow kisses to his opponents or make silly dances to further provoke them.
Street now lives in Florida, he's still wrestling but I haven't got a clue about what happened to his singing career:
Also in the exhibition:
His 2001 film The Battle of Orgreave reconstructed the famous and violent clash between police and striking miners in 1984 with the help of historical re-enactment societies and former miners.
For 1997's Acid Brass, Deller invited a brass band to play acid house tunes. The video at the Hayward shows the actual performance but just the soundtrack makes my day.
The History of the World demonstrates the intertwined histories of traditional brass band music and the acid house scene of the late 1980s.
Don't miss The Posters Came from the Walls, a brilliant, witty and charming film about fans of Depeche Mode around the world. It's in the gallery upstairs, by the entrance. And it's free.
Jeremy Deller - Joy in People remains open until 13 May 2012 at the Hayward Gallery in London.
There's only one week left to head to Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and Middlesbrough and visit AV Festival, a biennial of contemporary art, music and film which main theme this year is As Slow As Possible.
One of the works on show is the extremely long-term project that sees Agnes Meyer-Brandis training a flock of young geese to fly to the moon. The whole training started last Spring and according to her schedule, the birds will go on their first unmanned flight to the satellite in 2024. However, the artist plans to accompany them on a later flight, most probably in 2027.
Meyer-Brandis' scientific experiment is inspired by The Man in the Moone, a story written in the early 17th century by English bishop Francis Godwin, a believer in the Copernican heliocentric system and of the latest theories in magnetism and astronomy. The book tells how Domingo Gonsales flies to the moon and gets to meet an advanced lunar civilization. The adventurer managed to escape the 'magnetic attraction of the earth' by harnessing a flock of birds called gansas, specifically trained for the purpose. Some critics regard the story as the first work of science fiction in English.
Since it has become so difficult to locate moon geese, Meyer-Brandis breeds her own moon geese. She acquired the eggs last April, named each of them after an astronaut, placed them in an incubator, watched over them, witnessed the hatching and imprinted herself on to them as their stand-in mother, just like Konrad Lorenz did with greylag geese.
The surrogate mother had to spend the weeks following the hatching in close contact with the eleven geese. The astronaut training started almost immediately, the young birds were encouraged to walk in a V-shape --the formation used to tow Godwin's chariot-- taken on expeditions into the mountains for high altitude training, taught how to use morse code devices for improved interspecies communication, and given lectures about astronomy and navigation.
The birds are currently continuing their training at Pollinaria (Italy), in an analogue that simulates the conditions of the Moon. Visitors of the show The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility in Newcastle can see a scaled model of the remote analogue site, admire the portraits of the astronauts, watch a documentary of the experiment and follow the birds daily life through the screens in the control room at the back of the gallery.
Documentation of the project and installation The Moon Goose Analogue:
Agnes Meyer-Brandis: The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility is part of the AV Festival and you can see the film and installation at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle through 31 March, 2012.
Also on view at the AV Festival: Slow Motion Car Crash.