Slide 1 Presentation, not representation: Notes on how to show something OR From the Limits of Painting and Poetry to Redistribution
in a selection of screen grabs Slide 2 So, I suppose when I started thinking about what to say for this talk there were a couple of questions and problems that I immediately identified. So, I would like to have a look at these issues and also show you some works that I think attempt to address these issues, or at least say something about themselves and their own context, to take a stand and really begin to problematise what it is to try and show something or make something. I am going to split this into three main sections. Part I: Not Representation Slide 3 In this section I look at the problem of representation and how this leads the presumption that moving image has some means to expressive truth beyond other forms. Underneath the purely technical facility of film and video to record, what is at stake here is a political and historical discourse of visibility, not only how to show something, but what should be shown. This is a question of avoiding the issues of representation and instead opening onto a new language of immediacy and possibility of communication. Part II: Presentation Slide 4 In light of this, the second issue is one of presentation, namely how to say something without the supposedly dominative representation of language. What is problematic here is how to potentialise the radical form of visibility apparently offered by the moving image? The issue here is not what should be shown but rather, how anything can be shown at all. Beyond a simple investigation into technique, this is a question reliant on our first issue; namely, whether breaking the rules of representation is dependent on acknowledging their presence. Part III: How to show something Slide 5 What I would like to draw attention to here though is the presumption that highlighting these issues necessarily acts as a critical tool. Slide 6. Importantly, what is at stake here is the re-validation and rebranding of an experimental critique into another consensual form of visibility because of their medium as opposed to any critical re-negotiation of the terms of visibility. Which is the important thing here. Slide 6. So in some sense where I hope to end up is looking at how something, in this case moving image, can interrogate its own temporal and spatial nature as a way of approaching how to show something, or in other words, how to say something. Slide 7.
Slide 8 Part I: Not Representation I think in some ways it is not really a question of film being a verifying document or a more adequate form of communication – what sets up film's whole discourse on the index and narrative potentiality as a language is its relation to prior mediums of of expression and communication. In this sense, the assumed critical value of film comes from its breaking away from a consensual illustrative mode of representation and in this way the limits of of this understanding of representation. Slide 9 In 1766 Gottfried Lessing wrote a text called 'Laocoon: On the Limits of Poetry and Painting'. Slide 10. In this text he questions the relationship between poetry as a temporal written form and painting as a spatial visual form as problematised by sculpture. Slide 11 Against Virgil's poetic version of Laocoon, where the priest Laocoon is blinded and killed along with his two sons for doubting the gods, Lessing compares the sculpture of Laocoon where his screams of anguish are depicted as a sigh. Slide 12. For Lessing this choice to represent the story of Laocoon altered, the poetic shriek rendered as a silent sigh, preserved the nobility of Laocoon. The combination of different aspects of the story into one materialisation was, for Lessing, indicative of the limitations of painting and poetry, specifically the way poetry could not show in these visible forms in the same evocative manner. Painting, on the hand, reduced or intensified a whole story to a single pregnant moment. However, they could not tell the history of an object or a scenario in the way poetry could. If poetry was a temporal means to expression limited by its non visible form, then painting was a spatial means to expression limited by its visible form. In this sense, these limitations posit two ideas – firstly, that language, exemplified in poetry, is limited by its non physical and non visible form – secondly, that image, exemplified in painting is limited by its non temporal visibility. What is vital against these limits then in the development of film is two things, firstly that it seems to potentialise the possibility of a a visual form of language and secondly a temporal form of image. Slide 13. For Sergei Eisenstein, film challenged the limitations of representation and potentialised a new mode of creative presentation. Slide 14. 'In the moving image (cinema) we have, so to speak, a synthesis of two counterpoints – the spatial counterpoint of graphic art, and the temporal counterpoint of music.'i This was possible through the dialectical montage principle of conflict. Slide 15. The collision of singular image elements in time convey narrative Slide 16 because both actor and spectator go through the same creative process as the director. Slide 17. Narrative cinema did not follow painting's incapability at total representation but was more akin to a language directly translatable, 'determining representations' that create 'the live image' which Eisenstein understood as 'the secret of emotional narrative (as distinct from factual information)'ii. Slide 18 For Eisenstein's earlier contemporary Dziga Vertov the advent of moving image as a documenting machine, announced the mechanised possibility for a truthful document which challenged the human eye by its 'particular juxtaposition of visual details, of intervals'iii. Slide 19. A duration that out lasted the human eye, an experimental eye distending time that can combine human hand with mechanical eye, 'the liberated and perfected camera'iv. Slide 20. Kino-Pravda or film-truth yielded the possibility of 'making the invisible visible, the unclear clear, the hidden manifest, the disguised overt, the acted non-acted; making falsehood into truth.'v Slide 21. 'Editing, organising, combining together separate shots to completely avoid falseness, … to show us the truth.'vi Slide 22. In this sense, Vertov's interest in was in the camera as a liberating tool of revelation and revolutionary promise of communication. In this way, film as medium stands in opposition not just to representation but further, to the limits of representation. It paradoxically becomes both the tool some further unmediated form of expression – one as direct document, one as direct narrative. However, both these materialist post-Marxist ideas on some perfect picture or direct language ignore the fact that these are nevertheless forms of mediation. What is unmediated or invisible or in Lessing's terms, beyond the limits, is only grasped in negative relation to what is visible, what is mediated. Presentation itself is related to representation and vice versa, not just historically, but socially in terms of commodified social relations and materially in the form of its content. Present is representation, is mediated. It is not a question of removing the limits of representation but reflecting on our formative relation to them, the present tense of representation. The question then is how to retain or maintain or present representation in the moment of now?
Slide 10 Slide 11
Slide 13 Slide 12
Slide 19 Slide 20
Slide 23 Part II: Presentation As we have so far speculated on, the veracity of the medium of film as document and emotional communicability of it as narrative, questions what has been understood as the limitation of representation. However, within a materialist discourse, what goes beyond these limits is historically determined rather than transcendentally legitimated. Film, then, if it can be critical, must question its own form, it must de-form to re-form. It is not a matter of pacifying or activating criticality strictly in form, the camera, or in content, the narrative, but of questioning the very relation between the two via an experimental presentation of their own structures. For Hollis Frampton the position was not to be against narrative but to recognise the 'problems and paradoxes of narrative, as with other things.' Slide 24 'Viable or non-viable readymade views of knowledge.' - Slide 25 The fact that something is '… recognisable as narrative in-itself, entirely asides from its specific content or your own version of narrative theory, already suggests an epistemological cast. Slide 26 It says essentially that you do subscribe, if not wholeheartedly, to a certain view of knowledge.'vii Works like (nostalgia) 1971, and Poetic Justice, 1972, Slide 27, Slide 28, Slide 29 which form the first two parts of the eight part series Hapax Legomena, attempt 'corruptions' of narrative what Frampton identifies as 'a double or triple present'viii that poses the posture of the film as critical as opposed to prescriptive. WATCH 5 MINUTES OF (NOSTALGIA) AT THIS POINT So, in this sense we can see that contradiction between the truth of Vertov's photograph and Eisenstein's emotional narration. As Lessing proposed the imagistic and textual are related and parallel forms. They function based on a certain expectation and memory, a history, that tells us a correct order and an associated image. This could be the recognition of the relation between the separate forms of painting and poetry, present and representation, subject and object, form and content. Slide 30. In a lecture Hollis Frampton presented in 1968, he gave an examination of the nature of film through a tape recorded narration, read, as is (nostalgia), by Michael Snow. In this lecture, the tape recorder was placed on a desk and switched on giving instructions to Frampton who controlled the film projector. The projector displayed a white screen while Snow's narration instructed Frampton to introduce varying elements into the projector against a narrative biographical and autobiographical reminiscence on the movement of an image. Through the limitation of light through the gate the lecture and biographical construction and then deconstruction, form is presented as being less about what you see and more what you do not, or rather, what it is not recollects what actually is. Showing something then would not be about the avoiding of representation but presenting it. Slide 31. Sheer presence. As such the presence of something, the experience of an object is as much its present tense. Film, as a potential object of critical resistance only remains so if it can be felt as a presence as a temporal objectification, as what resists determination. Maintaining the live moment, the now of presence, is not necessarily a performance. To produce a live work is to produce a work that has a life of its own, it resists, it is autonomous because it is social not in spite of it. How then to show something as a life. Against its critical implication we can now also understand Frampton's (nostalgia) as just that, nostalgia, a comfortable discourse on criticality, now throughly accepted as a viable form of visibility. In this sense, breaking the rules of representation more than just acknowledging their presence, creates new modes of consensual representation as well as dissensual presence. How then can the critical potentiality that a work attempts live on?
Slide 33 Slide 34
Slide 36 Slide 37
Slide 41 Slide 39 Slide 40
Slide 44 Slide 42 Slide 43
Slide 47 Slide 45
Slide 32 Part III: How to show something One way in which this has been problematised is to work against the present moment by supplying a surplus of presentations, not just in a narrative sequence but in the life of a work in-itself; hence the version, the edition, the archive, the continuous project altered daily. This is not only the reordering of sequence but the bringing into the present tense of a past tense, tenses losing specificity, resisting not only temporal and spatial placement but geographical and historical verification. Here it is not only the limitation of picture and order, but the content of form that is questioned as each version destroys and rebuilds the next. In as much as works like (nostalgia) and Poetic Justice make present a supposedly concrete image or text, works like the one we are about to see an except of, Kevin Atherton's In Two Minds (1978) repeatedly make concrete a supposedly live presentation. And consistently question what it is to make something or to try and show something through a mediated and redistributed form. WATCH 5 MINS OF IN TWO MINDS AT THIS POINT From an initial work where Atherton recorded questions to himself prior to the performance, Slide 33 then sat in the audience to answer them, the extract we have just seen is the fourth version of this work, out of a now sixteen alterations. Slide 34, Slide 35, Slide 36, Slide 37. In the work we have just seen Atherton questions how his performance can work taken out of its live inaction and placed on the two screens, made into a formal object, but it is less the object of the monitors that make this object, make this work, but the tension between the dependence on a live conversation and the closed form of its action. The now, the liveness is in its autonomy as object, its resistance to determinate or consensual status, not its form but the visibility of forms relation to content. To quote, 'The thing is never static. It never stops. It is never over. You can't draw a line on it.' 'Making the 'now' whenever the 'now' is, is now the point.'ix These re-articulations, revisions of showing something are objects in their state of resistance. How to show something is not in this sense to define it accurately but to attempt to over and over again. In Barbara Visser's lecture based series of works that begins with Lecture with Actress (2004) Slide 38. Visser used an actress in place of herself at a panel discussion on reality and fiction. The actress is prompted Visser’s answers to the public questions from a hidden location while in the documented footage subtitles of Visser’s responses contradict the actress’s interpretations. Lecture on Lecture with Actress (2006) Slide 39 uses this documentation in another lecture, another actress repeating Visser explaining the process. Confusion is amplified in the final Last Lecture (2007) Slide 40 documenting Visser silhouetted against the projected documentation of the previous lectures. The complex re-composition of each layered document prompts destabilisations of language and enigmatic constellations of meaning. Slide 41. How to show something is in this sense posed by a lack of visibility, or rather the disruption of its distributed forms of visibility. Slide 42 In Seth Price's 2007 work Redistribution Slide 43 these disjunctive temporal and spatial layers of form and again negated by not only the spatial and temporal assumptions of a form, but the specificity and context of a practice. What begins as an artist's talk on practice Slide 44 complete with requisite exemplifications and also the text Dispersion, is revised into another version Slide 45, a performance Slide 46, an installation Slide 47, new images enter into the form and new constellations form and negate themselves. Again it is not the live literal moment but the moment of the objects life resisting that makes its critical potential. Speaking on Duchamp's fountain, Price posits that 'the artwork does not occupy a single position in space and time; rather, it is a palimpsest of gestures, presentations, and positions. Slide 48. Distribution is a circuit of reading, and there is huge potential for subversion when dealing with the institutions that control definitions of cultural meaning.'x Slide 49 Whether such a subversion can operate critically is a different matter. The resistance of matter, of object, is not just formal, if it operates at a structural level, it is at the moment where content appears as what is left. When what is not present and presence interrogate each other, the moment of now. Slide 50 Notes from a presentation given at Present Technology: Out from Video at Kingston University, 15/07/10.
iv v vi vii viii ix
Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form, Essays in Film Theory and The Film Sense, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda, Clevland and New York: Meridian Books, 1957, p. 52. Eisenstein, Sergei. Problems of Film Direction, Honolulu, University Press of the Pacific, 2004, p. 33. Vertov, Dziga. Kino-eye: the writings of Dziga Vertov, trans. Kevin O'Brien, ed. Annette Michelson, Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1984, p. 21. Ibid. p. 19. Ibid. p. 41. Ibid. p. 174. Frampton, Hollis. 'Interview with Hollis Frampton', Peter Gidal, October 32 (Spring 1985), p. 106. Ibid. p. 108. Atherton, Kevin. 'Interview with Kevin Atherton', Dr. Jackie Hatfield, Rewind, 2005, p.3. Sourced from http://www.rewind.ac.uk/documents/Kevin%20Atherton/KAT510.pdf on 07/01/2010. Price, Seth. Dispersion, 2008. Sourced from http://www.distributedhistory.com/Dispersion2008.pdf on 07/01/2010.