By Jorge Alberto Perez
Without the help of a plot but with the rhythmic coaxing of a 12-string guitar, the one hour and one minute film “Street” by James Nares is absolutely hypnotic. Like Christian Marclay’s art-world sensation last year, (“The Clock”) “Street” has an addictive quality about it that makes you question the notion of time at a fundamental experiential level. With the former, one felt the anticipation of moving forward in time while engaged in the present moment’s deciphering of the rapid succession of filmic and cultural references of the past. In the latter, however, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 27, one is mesmerized by the uncanny qualities of New York City’s street life when suspended somewhere between still and moving images where being and time collide to disrupt the present. In “Street” the minute details of life in the public sphere are able to take center stage as impressive open-ended arias in an epic opera of expressions, movement and vibrations. What normally escapes us unnoticed suddenly acquires magical qualities that seduce us with ease into a world that is at once familiar and alien. The ostensible simplicity of the premise (recording street scenes from a slowly moving car) produces a disproportionate amount of poetic results. It does what language cannot – allowing us a sensation of floating, the suspension of both time and the laws that govern the motion of objects in space, while making us witness to unexpected beauty.
The tradition of documenting street life has a long history in both photography and film and the deployment of a new technology for an artistic endeavor often yields an off-spring of surprising uncanniness. It has long been the task of the artist to reveal what is not known or unknowable in general, but more so when the subject matter is of quotidian life on the streets of the metropolis. Chantal Akerman’s “D’Est” and Dziga Vertov’s “Man with a Moving Camera” especially come to mind. In Nares’ hands, however, the final result of a high-definition slow-motion camera (so slow that at times the only movement appears to be from the apparatus itself) turns the pedestrian world of pedestrians into a meditation on humanity suspended in fragments of time that can only be described as sublime. But the work also speaks to the illusory quality of time itself, for although we might feel freed from its constraints momentarily, it is an invisible vise that tightens around us. With more time to see what might otherwise be missed we have even more information to sort through, most of which can no longer be easily categorized as we are untethered from meaning. Time dutifully slips through our fingers with same same ease as always but with the added effect of revealing some of its secrets. The film, like a mirroring mise-en-abyme, tunnels ever deeper away from the present the longer we look, and thus our own sense of “real time” is displaced. Moments that unfold with such graceful care are layered with multiple meanings and though we may search for their origin or terminus where we think we might understand what we are seeing, it usually eludes us as we are distracted with the rarefied truth of actuality. An expression that starts off like a grimace ends up in a smile, a cigarette flying through the air is less a moment about littering and more a meditation on gravity. The crumpled posture of a woman elicits sympathy until we notice she is trying to take a picture and is merely holding the camera in an awkward position. Rain drops harden into diamonds before bouncing off umbrellas, bejeweling headlights. An ordinary pigeon endowed with the majesty of an eagle maneuvers in order to land. Lights everywhere pulsate with the universal Qi.
Everything is authentic in this state of expanding time. Even when the camera is acknowledged by the subject, the fourth wall does not crumble. On the contrary, it is a revelation of authenticity when a vibration of strength penetrates us with eye-contact. A direct look is all-at-once dangerous, playful, unnerving and spiritual. We are privy to a coded conversation at a level we forget we are capable of understanding. If for no other reason I would sit through the film again to experience those moments of contact with these strangers, not to mention the elegant upward floating sparrows next to a sign that reads “play here” or the seemingly improbable physics of bipedal locomotion or the elegant ripples of the breeze on a young woman’s dress. To sense the joy that can be derived from the smallest expression, the tiniest gesture, the subtlest vibration in a democracy of meaning is a special achievement in a work of art. We are reminded that everything arises in relation to everything else.
In “Street” people stand on corners like a Greek chorus – each face the unique mask of an individual describing a state of universal experience. Sadly I was forced to draw comparisons with the myriad street scenes of Boston we have recently also been exposed to. Whereas the notion of the interconnectedness of humanity was already present in this work, it became inescapable that the sinister and dangerous qualities of the social sphere are also embedded in Nares’ work. And to that I can only say that the revelatory moments feel all the more precious when reminded of the fragility of the fabric that binds it all together.
The only thing I knew about James Nares prior to seeing “Street” was his large-brush paintings, often achieved with a single stroke while he is suspended by a harness above the canvas cirque-du-soleil style. The sense of ease and floating translates directly from his method of marking the canvas to a dynamic suspension of pigment that is both cascading and frozen. The theme of a suspension of movement, and thus time, may or may not be an intentional thread between these disparate works, but it certainly appears so in this 61 minute film – 60 minutes plus one more, spilling over and out of the neat container of time.
By Jorge Alberto Perez
Okay. So we all know by now that images cannot be trusted. Since Plato, the image (mimesis), indeed representation itself, has been associated with deception. It is certainly true that images today cannot be trusted to be accurate versions of what is real or represented – ‘likeness’ opting for the approximation clause inherent in the definition of image-making. And once tampered with and altered, these representations are more than twice removed from what it represents. And though we are generally savvy enough to discern how far from real images are in the spectrum of truth, in the age of photoshop and digital reproducibility, our suspicions are subordinated to the vast volume of images, gifs and videos with which we are confronted daily. Today, whatever might still be considered an emphatic expression of fact re-presented in visual terms floats in our collective willing suspension of disbelief. We grow unaccustomed to believing our eyes – even in the presence of the real, in real time…
On Saturday March 23rd I encountered an art work entitled “The Maybe” at MoMA. What I encountered, actually, was the crowd that had encountered the art work. Second order observation. Immediately past the entrance where the ticket-takers scan you in, in the most transitional space in the building, an unmoving crowd had surrounded an object, a thing, a glass case on a metal stand. It was tall enough for viewers to easily peer into it. it contained a simple pallet, a pillow, a glass water decanter with a drinking glass top, a pair of eyeglasses and a presumably sleeping Tilda Swinton. The wall tag read: “The Maybe, 1995/2013, Living Artist, Glass, Steel, Mattress, Pillow, Linen, Water and Spectacles.”
Like most of those who had gathered to see the contents of the glass box, I did not expect to find a living person, much less the enigmatic, androgynous beauty that is Swinton. In fact, at first my brain did this thing, a kind of processing hiccup, a glitch between the eyes and the brain. I saw the form of a person to be sure, from the back at first, so still that I was convinced it was a very realistically rendered figure. From the front, however, where most people chose to stand, what I thought I was seeing and what I was in fact seeing were separated by a gap wide enough to make me feel light-headed. Why on earth would a sleeping person be inside a glass box that has no clear way to get in or out, and be on display in the most awkward location thinkable? I stood still, as one does at the scene of an accident, to see something horrible, the confirmation that your senses are in revolt. The murmurings of the crowd faded away as my reptilian brain scanned the body for signs of life. She was dressed gender-neutral, neither too cool, or dated or brand-specific – in a loose summer linen shirt of faded baby blue, sensible sneakers, and modestly proportioned jeans. From most angles you could not tell if it was a man or woman. I looked to her abdomen, shying away from her face which was so close (and too real?) that it made me feel uncomfortable, like a voyeur, or worse. Her breathing was so shallow, that I had to look elsewhere for proof, because I was still doubting what I was seeing, mistrusting my eyes to tell me some truth. Swinton was asking me to be present. To watch her ‘perform’ sleeping. To be accountable for my presence. To take stock of nuance despite the fog of doubt, despite the carnivalesque din. Finally with patience I saw her eyes move inside their hiding place. She was dreaming. Now I push the maybe aside and I see she is alive, not a waxen figure or an image of deceptive realness. Now I see something that is true and must take in the consequences of what I know. Contrived or not, this is a kind of intimacy.
A torrent of unanswerable questions inundates me. How, and why, but also really how? Seriously, and the glass, no way in or out… Why should I ever need to be so close to her luminescent pale face, lightly reflective with the oiliness of the unadorned, unattended visage of sleep? From the crowd I hear, “I saw her fingers move.” Indeed they did twitch. It was such a tiny gesture, so small and concise, easy to miss, and yet there we were, about fifty of us, slowing ourselves down long enough to notice it, to see it and to know what it means, but not to know what it means to see it.
I am the voyeur. I am a man and I am watching her sleep, at her most vulnerable. I feel implicated in the male gaze. She has deferred her power and it unsettles me, dislodging violent thoughts. The metal stand feels too tall to be stable, the glass too transparent to be unbreakable. I want to beat on the glass and break her out. There is an implied panic at looking at a constrained person, because despite the ostensible serenity I suddenly realize her tranquil expression is portentous of a disturbance. So much can go wrong. The sleeping beauty box becomes a prison cell. I notice she has no belt. I feel the crowd inching forward, muttering, sniggering, disdainful. I smell someone’s sour breath and awaken as if from the hypnosis of the maybe-maybe-not-pendulum that momentarily dispossessed me of myself. I am suddenly afraid of the crowd, afraid for her safety. I don’t want her to awaken afraid, confused, her own consciousness hiccuping its way into focus. I want her to open her eyes, look right at me to acknowledge that I am her hero and close them so quickly we may all doubt what we saw.
I am also thinking… I have trouble sleeping, falling asleep, staying asleep. Too much light, not enough air circulating, too hot too cold, too restrained, not cozy enough – all these things awaken me. So it is no wonder that I marvel at Swinton’s uninterrupted REM and wonder if ‘maybe’ she took a little something. Maybe not, but c’mon – MAYBE.
This change of tone reminds me of what most of the reactions to Swinton at MoMA were like out in the twittering, texting, internetting world. Jerry Saltz seemed to have a meltdown on vulture.com and joked that celebrity art is like a crystal meth addiction to the museum, and that when it is not too busy perpetuating the guru status of some (read Marina Abromovich) it was turning itself into a circus. Why “The Maybe” was the tipping point for his disdain, only Malcom Gladwell may know. Snoozefest-cum-spectacle pretty much sums up his response. But it is unfair to gloss over it with such nonchalance even from a self-described sourpuss. At least the work was an opportunity for him to frame his contempt for the direction museums are moving in; and so the performance suddenly became institutional critique, among other things. Most other reports used puns to summarize Swinton. Sleeping on the Job. The Art of Napping. Strangest Celeb Hobby. Etc. And a few mentions of Sleeping Beauty.
Interestingly, one of constraints for this performance is that it is not scheduled into MOMA’s ever-growing dance card. The element of surprise is inherent to the piece. If she is Sleeping Beauty, she is not waiting for the prince to appear unannounced. Like in Anne Sexton’s “Transformations” the fairytale is upended. This is no ordinary Briar Rose. And not only can one not plan to see the work, as one could for “The Artist is Present” – it migrates within the museum interacting with other artworks. These “rules” literally unplug the work from any predictability, even of meaning. Maybe the work is a reminder to look to see, to know, to think, to trust yourself to be the author of meaning in the present as you experience it. Maybe the work is not even about Tilda Swinton at all, it just happens to be by her. Barthes would be pleased.
A mercurial poet of visual splendors, Pierre Le Hors challenges the ways in which pictures exist. Photographing transient beauty and anchoring it concretely in this world though the creation of carefully considered objects, Le Hors explores space.
“Photography lets me pay attention to the outward appearance of objects, to the surface of my surroundings. With photos you can isolate a little part of the world, saving it for later consideration. I find that you can discover a lot about the world by starting from its surface, and working backwards from there.”
Last month Dashwood Books released a new publication of Le Hors’ photographs entitled “Byways and Through Lines”. This object is halfway between a zine and a full-fledged book, and it contains a very personal alternative to the standard series of photos. The images are widely varied, drawings and paint marks are presented alongside pictures made using a scanner interspersed with more traditionally straight photography. The connections between images are poetically nonlinear, barely tangential, often bisecting each other and twisting together then separating. The flow of “Byways and Through Lines” is more like a cloud, an etherlike Chutes and Ladders for the eyes mind and heart. Diagrammed, I imagine connections between the images would looks very much like Le Hors’ photographs. The images are very warm and human, alternately emphasizing surface and depth, rich with visual play. “I usually don’t shoot with a very clear idea of where the images will end up,” Le Hors admits. “I tend to think about my pictures as pretty fluid things. Most of the images in Byways were initially unrelated. Some came from different projects, others were simply photos taken in a casual way, out of observation. In editing and laying out the book, I looked for several thematic “threads” to run throughout, parallel to each other. They criss-cross in certain places, and the title alludes to that. In a quite literal way, the book binds them and creates a third context.”
David Strettell, owner of Dashwood books, published “Byways and Through Lines” as part of the second year of the “Dashwood Book Series”. Other artists represented in this second volume of the series include Glen Luchford and Nigel Shafran, as well as a collaboration with Robert Mapplethorpe’s foundation which features unseen early collages and assemblages with an introduction by Patti Smith. “The idea behind the whole series is to introduce contemporary photographers and reintroduce largely unknown work from the past to a contemporary audience serving as a reflection of Dashwood’s own curatorial theme,” explains Strettell. “Variety is the key in terms of matching fashion with documentary with conceptual art as well as established figures with relatively unknown talents. What I recognized in Pierre’s working practice that it was linked very much to books and publishing. He had previously published a beautifully conceived project with Hassla, Firework Studies and was publishing experimental zines under the name NOWORK (with Tuomas Korpijaakko).”
“Firework Studies” is one of the most elegant photographic objects I have ever encountered. It’s more of a movie than a monograph, the edges silver leafed into a perfect block and every surface of the book covered full bleed in beautifully tonal black and white photograph. The book is sculpture, it reads back and forth and over and around, romancing the viewer with exploding light tendrils leaking over black ground in atomically generated paintings.
Le Hors makes things. In the time of tumblr where photographs increasingly loose connection to their origin there is a tendency for photographs to become weightless, images floating through space unhindered by a physical object. There is a high level of craft in Le Hors’ work, an attention to how it can be interacted with physically from a human perspective. This consideration of the encounter is evident in both sequential publications like zines and books and in the way Le Hors presents still photographs as prints. There is generally an emphasis on surface, on the photographic object. But not always. Always the vaporous quality of these photographs resists becoming solid.
17 C-prints mounted to aluminum
Installation views from “Alikeness” Solo exhibition Ed. Varie, New York, NY January 2011
Leah Beeferman / Pierre Le Hors Two-person exhibiton PACS Gallery, Brooklyn September 2011
“I think there is a lot to be said for being literal, or plain spoken. I also think of abstraction as being literal, one-to-one: what you see is what you get.”
Le Hors is the current recipient of CCNY’s darkroom residency, and he’s making exciting new pictures. As part of the residency an exhibition of the work that eventually results will be presented at CCNY sometime next year. This will surely be something to see as Le Hors’ ideas of what could happen in his art seem like the galaxy to be constantly expanding, spiraling outward and inward, through space and time. Stay tuned.
-Matte Magazine for CCNY
photo by Matthew Leifheit for CCNY
conversation with Pacifico Silano
Recuperating and reconfiguring icons sliced from pornographic gay magazines of another generation, Pacifico Silano emphasizes the negative space they left behind. He is included in the upcoming second edition of Jen Bekman’s “Hey Hotshot” exhibition, on view April 6th, 2013 through April 21st, 2013.
Opening Reception Friday, April 5th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
at Jen Bekman Gallery, 6 Spring Street NYC
MATTE: How did you become interested ’70s porn?
PC: I have always been fascinated with history and time periods that I have never lived through. In my early 20s I started spending a lot of time in dirty East Village gay bars that would play 70s gay porn on loops. I started to model my own appearance off of some of the men I saw on screen, grooming my mustache and wearing denim/plaid. I was fascinated with the masculine archetypes in the films. I also saw an amazing documentary called Gay Sex in the 70s and it completely changed my life. It struck a strong emotional cord with me and ever since then I have felt a need to talk about a lost generation of gay men.
MATTE: What do you think imagery from this time period can say about today?
PC: Everything old eventually is new again. I think given the current political climate with gay rights and marriage equality, now is an appropriate time to look to the past in order to figure out where we are going as a group of people. Looking at this imagery is a reminder of how much we have lost. I also think that there is something interesting about the desirability of gay porn stars and how disposable they become over time. That factored with the AIDS epidemic makes for a powerful statement.
Where the Boys Are, photo/video istallation 2012
MATTE: How are this new work and your last series, “Where the Boys Are” related? How are they different?
PC: This new body of work is directly connected to the themes I have explored in “Where The Boys Are”. It’s just a little more specific and obsessive. This new work dissects the Al Parker persona. It’s both a memorial/tribute to a person and a commentary on how we consume imagery from the past… it also just so happens to be about one of the most famous gay porn stars of all time.
MATTE: Describe the postcard piece you were telling me about.
“Wish You Were Here” is a postcard I have fabricated of Al Parker & Mike Davis. The two starred in many films together during the 70s and both died from complications of AIDS. I wanted to create a piece that would breathe new life into the forgotten and find new ways to circulate their likeness without the internet. Something that would feel authentic… It’s interesting because the image I have chosen has strong homoerotic undertones. The idea of this imagery being distributed and mailed out is also a commentary on censorship and how far I would like to believe we have come.
-MATTE Magazine for CCNY
New works by Rachel Stern, exclusively on CCNY
All photographs type-c prints from 8×10 negatives