Spooky Black

Without You

Video

2014

Spooky Black is a high school student from Minnesota. His sexy music and visuals are straight out of the “mirror stage.”

This period occurs early in life and results in the creation of the ego through a mechanism of internal conflict: the infant confronts his image in the mirror, and is fooled by what he perceives to be his capacity for purposeful action. Lacan insists in Seminar I (1953-54) that “the sight alone of the whole form of the human body gives the subject an imaginary mastery over his body, one which is premature in relation to real mastery.”

Writes Kristeva in “On the Melancholic Imaginary,” reproduced above: “Depression is the hidden face of Narcissus: that countenance which – although it will carry him off into death – remains unperceived by him as, marvelling, he contemplates himself in a mirage.” This is the landscape of adolescence and the condition for Without You, in which Spooky Black smiles as he sings, “I’ll die without you.”

Cécile B. Evans

The Brightness

Video

2014

http://cecilebevans.com/index.php/projects/the-brightness/

Most pop cultural dream analysis resources online will reiterate the folkloric association of losing one’s teeth in a dream with anxieties relating to loss, attachment, and death. Freudian psychoanalysis is consistent with this, suggesting that men who dream of losing their teeth are fearful of castration – a significant loss, tied to identity – specifically as a punishment for onanism.

Cecile B. Evans’ The Brightness (2013) stems from the artist’s investigation of Phantom Limb Pain, part of a body of research to which I contributed a Skype interview with a Dr. Cecile B. Evans – a research nurse who specializes in working with patients experiencing this pain, and whose name mirrors the artist’s down to its middle initial, “B.” The Brightness’ 3D animated choreography adds to Evans’ interrogation of how emotions inhabit and navigate the immaterial and material realities of our networked: detached from our mouths, our teeth do not disappear, but come together to assert a singular, circular, and uncanny “presence of loss.”

Dominic Faraway

Pointless Cloth Test

Video

2014

Search for the terms “3D tears” in Vimeo and you will find “Pointless Cloth Test,” produced when user Dominic Faraway began “playing around with c4d cloth and tearing.” The video inadvertently melds the liquid tears that one sheds, and the cutting tears that one inflicts, or shreds. Its title is defeatist if one chooses to read it as such, and its chosen model – the disembodied head of Walt Disney – a dark reflection on the genesis and decay of the “happiest” and “most magical” kingdoms on Earth.

000aletse

YouTube Walt Disney Fantasia Mickey The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Video

2014

The magic of YouTube makes sharable the Disney adaptation of Goethe’s 1797 ballad, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, in which the eponymous character enchants a broom to fetch water for him, only to discover the limits of his magical abilities. The apprentice confronts his image, and his world fills with water: this is amniotic fluid, which suspends him between the whole of the world and the sharp shards of wood that litter the floor with each swing of the axe, only to reanimate again. This is Pessoa’s “dead life” of repurposing. This is the loss that tingles and aches between our fractured bodies and our fragile screens.

Michael Jackson

Slave to the Rhythm, performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards

Video

2014

This posthumous ‘live’ performance of a track Jackson had started working on before he died employed new technologies of video projection to create the illusion of ‘presence’, with Jackson even managing complex interactions with an ensemble of dancers in the sort of song and dance and pyrotechnics spectacle which we might rightly have expected to be HIStory. Of course this sort of posthumous video performance finds a precursor of sorts in Brandon Lee’s performance in The Crow (1994), and Hatsune Miku, a popular anime hologram popstar (produced by Sega and the comically sinister sounding Crypton Future Media), has being drawing enthusiastic crowds to ‘live’ performances in Japan for years. Perhaps due to the fame (and later infamy) that Jackson enjoyed during his lifetime his performance seems to go furthest in playing with expectations of ‘authenticity’, even hollowing out the necessity of ‘life’ from the spectacle of live entertainment. Yet, curiously these new video projection technologies are employed in other contexts precisely to provide a sense of ‘authentic presence’, where none would otherwise be available. For example, when on the election campaign trail, the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian People’s party (BJP) used hologramic ‘live’ performances to travel the country, speaking directly to the billion-strong electorate. The disputes that emerged around Jackson’s estate in the wake of his death seems to suggest that some interesting issues around intellectual property and the ‘image’ rights of dead artists might emerge in the not so distant future. I am going long on Marina Abramović installing a permanent digital ‘presence’ in her private museumoleum.

Martha Rosler

Martha Rosler Reads Vogue

Video

2014

In this classic piece of feminist video art from 1982 Rosler comically pulls apart the semiotics of Vogue by slowly reading aloud from a single issue. Focusing on a single magazine like this might seem almost quaint today given the constant stream of media images that confront us on multiple simultaneous platforms, and her attempts to expose the class and gender relations it promotes are undoubtedly unfashionably blunt. Yet, Rosler’s performance draws out the magazine’s relentlessly hectoring insistence on aspiration – particularly of course the female consumer’s – with a leisurely hostility that maintains its force and humour over thirty (critical theory-soaked) years later. Her counter-mantra employs strategies of repetition and juxtaposition to render explicit the forms of power running through the fashion press, even as its content is reduced to a numbing babble – a pure carrier for discursive power. I’m particularly fond of the recurrent evocation of Cy Twombly and his “remarkable” studio in Rome; the work of an artist reduced to the trappings of a lifestyle, something to aspire to, perhaps for female artists most of all Vogue seems to suggest. Rosler not only underlines the sly operations of gendered power in seemingly innocuous copy but the important role that mediation plays in the ‘image of the artist’, something that seems to have grown even more important with the increasing web presence of contemporary art and the blockbuster biennale/art fair circuit blending in to the pages of ‘Scene and Herd’, all the while career competition inflating along with the market.

Ryan Trecartin

Videos on UbuWeb

Video

2014

http://www.ubuweb.com/film/trecartin.html

Ryan Trecartin’s work might strike many as passé – so 2009! – given that a new ‘generation’ of artists has emerged in the last few years, expanded the space for ‘digital’ work within the main channels of contemporary art, where Trecatin was a more lonely figure a half-decade ago. Indeed, he is now something of an establishment figure in the field, as far as such a thing exists, acting as co-curator of The New Museum’s 2015 Triennial. Indeed, some are already likely to see his work as being principally of ‘historical’ significance rather than as an active creative concern. Yet, this might in itself be symptomatic of the accelerated tempo of social media trends, where the rise and fall of critical currency mirrors the lifecycle of memes; something from which the art world is hardly insulated in an era of Contemporary Art Daily, e-flux newsfeeds, Facebook pages for exhibition openings and YouTube trailers for museum shows. Indeed, Trecartin’s work arguably has relevance beyond the half-life of fashion precisely because it directly engages – or rather over-performs – the manic, non-stop, media-stacked, multi-channeled, attention-deficient-inducing temporalities of the contemporary social-media landscape, and the patterns of subjective breakdown, proliferation and vicarious ‘rebirths’ which it demands/allows. Trecartin seems to approach the contemporary psycho-media complex by way of a sort of immanent overload – an over-identification with media-saturated modes of online subjectification, one marked by an exponential intensification of the strategies of ‘mimetic exacerbation’ familiar from Dada. His films cast the cacophonous simultaneity of images and voices familiar from early twentieth century avant-garde strategies of collage and montage in to the screen-space of pop-up windows, chat boxes, messages alerts and break-ups via Skype, in order to more intensely inhabit the emo world of online self-realization narratives, wish-fulfillment avatars and webcam cosplay. Whilst his films seem to push certain tendencies within online self-presentation and social-media relations in the direction of a claustrophobic web dystopia – a Hieronymus Bosch-like digital clusterfuck – Trecartin also importantly presents these media platforms as sites for the intensification of subjective experimentation, his films dissolving and remodeling gender and sexual identities in a way that hollows out any remnants of essentialism without evacuating power from (often traumatic) processes of subjectification.

I can still remember my first, visceral encounters with his films in 2009, fittingly experienced hunched over a laptop in bed, rather than in the more spacious confines of a gallery or museum. Even then UbuWeb (perhaps problematically) granted Trecartin a place within its archival canon as a sort of ‘instant classic’, but his work remains prescient in its hyperbolic embodiment of the relationship between contemporary digital technologies and subjectivity.

Frank Gehry

New York (Advertisement)

Video

2014

This advertisement for a recent skyscraper designed by Frank Gehry in downtown Manhattan seems to offer a perfect distillation of the way in which the contemporary global city is marketed as a plaything/investment opportunity for a mobile international elite, and highlights the role of starchitects in adding the spectacular icing to the crude real-estate cake at the core of this project. The title of course already implies that this is New York with a Gehry twist – the city itself remade, Gehry-style. Sure enough, the advert starts with the hands of the ‘genius’ drawing – his gestures evoking the rush of New York’s streets, the waves of the bay, the Statue of Liberty’s torch (Immigration! New York still wants you – for the right price), and so on, all of which find their way into the twisted surface of an otherwise bland condo/office tower whose ‘cutting edge’ cladding already looks cheap and out-of-date in its very of-the-minuteness (like so many recent ‘iconic’ towers Gehry’s seems sheathed in the imminent aesthetic obsolescence of the latest design software). Yet by the close New York has been reduced to an image on a tablet screen that can be reassuringly swiped away – an infinitely seductive distraction that can sometimes be a bit much. Hence, the building not only promises stunning ipad-like views over the city but complete god-like control over urban life, and a neat leveraged solution to the perennial real estate dilemma of the wealthy New Yorker: ‘I love the energy of the city but I need a calm place to escape from it all, a place just to be”.

Norm McDonald

‘Moth’ joke

Video

2014

This is one of a number of comedy clips that I watch regularly to keep myself sane and, as the cliché goes, I always find something new in it. The now famous moth joke that McDonald told as a guest during Conan O’Brien’s brief stint on The Tonight Show is a sort of meta-joke, playing with the idea that real comedy lies in ‘the way you tell it’ rather in the neat resolution of a punchline. McDonald makes this point clear by claiming he is simply retelling a joke told to him by his cab driver on the way to the interview (“ah that guy … wait to hear me tell it”) and in the long ponderous deferral of the punchline, which appears as an abrupt left turn at the very end of the McDonald’s allotted interview time – the joke, typical of his talk show appearances, slyly undermining the platform’s conventions. Anyway, jokes are never funny when you explain them so it’s better to just watch it. It’s a pity that in recent years McDonald has slumped into a sad cultural conservatism and seems to think that schoolyard homophobia satisfies the demands of comedy.