Monday, July 17, 2006

Back in black

Black Brassier, Undies, socks, boots, leggings, skirt, top, zip-up cardie. Lucky for bleachey regrowth or I could have looked like a widow. I’m too old to pass as a goth.

None of this was visible from inside the weird burqua like structure that sheathed my form. My eyes peeped out and met other coy glimpses from other ned-kelly players. Ned Kelly? Or some anonymous stereotype of the suburban subaltern….. the veiled Islamic female. Unsure. Mayhem liked this particular confluence of codes. A cone of zontac between international contemporary artwork and a noice Nolan reference for the locals. It was up there with last biennale’s take your pick selection of sorry/no worries.

Back to the box. A light frame on wheels, in which I felt safe, secure and warm. I was nursing a hangover and happy to see without being seen. Well my bum could be seen through the slit in the back but who was I to care? My phone rang and my friend told me she was in my hometown. I told her to visit my mum and where she could see the farms of school-friends from the highway. She said it was freezing. She was just passing through. I told her about the box. It felt like a phone booth.

She hung up and my hands went to the frame within which I glided around the room. I thought of various assiduous texts on the gallery as a training space for public comportment. How is one to look, to stand, to behave in public, self consciously, with decorum and distinction? As I glided within my black carapace, on the inside I picked my nose and scratched my bum. Considered masturbating. I could have spent the whole day in there but the signs said ‘do not leave the viewing area’. Bugger. I saw a couple entering one together. Lucky sods.

Was this the work? I’d entered the space in last night’s clothes, trawling along the left hand wall, peering into the scintillating stills mounted on monitors. Half naked women and men, sitting on chairs in an ugly room. Posed like anthropological specimens from some ghastly photographic cabinet of the nineteenth century. these figures were white – but I couldn’t help thinking of their black Australian shadows. I rankled at the annoyance of my own shadow passing in front of one of the screens, darkening it to the point of invisibility. I moved back and to the side, tried to peer obliquely. How annoying. Signs around said ‘do not touch.’

At the end of the line of monitors, there were a series of black glass squares. Squares of impenetrable dark gloss mirrored my shadow across 3 walls of the space. Then I noticed that the black oblongs were for entering. Realised, that they were viewing booths. So I stepped inside and wheeled up to the square. The black matt pall cast a shadow over the square. Up close, the square almost filled my own narrow viewing slit entirely. Then the image became visible. A repeat of the topless staring others. A creepy, quiet little voyeuristic frisson, that diminished my desire to masturbate.

I loved this piece not only because it looks elegant – but provides such a clear experience of a the ‘scopic’ regime of cinematic voyeurism. I’m not a fan of the Mulvey/Pollock school of getyerhandsorffit antiperve feminazi aesthetics – but do feel obliged to acknowledge that the cinematic imperative (sitting in a dark room looking at something BIG that can’t see you staring at it) governs lots of the spectacular codes of err, you know, the NOW time, late/post/high/hyperreal modernity or whatever you want to call it.

And part of this err…. Ahem… ‘scopic regime of late modernity’ (yep that IS the title of some great 80’s essay) is based on the implied cultural relations of the voyeur. Sneaking a peek when you don’t have permission. Looking at something that can’t see you. A voyeur likes to touch themselves in the dark, apparently, but in a room full of people, the voyeur transfers the manual touch into a lingering langourous GAZE. Hungry eyes see the body of the viewed as a substitute genitalia – and here I should be nice girl and stop trying to be so non gender specific – because the genitalia involved is meant to be the PHALLUS. Readers may remember the Berger line about ‘men as viewing subjects, women as viewed subjects’, and the baudrillard line of the spectacular incarnation of the castrated phallus that is incarnated by the stripper…… and they are probably all apt and correct. However, it’s a pretty hard line to swallow when you’re a lone lady-loving lady in a dark box with an ex-dildo and ex-girlfriend both 17,000 kilometres away let me tell you.

So, let me try to conceive of the sopic regimes of late modernity, where the ladies get to be more than a cock in drag or some harbinger of Lacanian LACK.

I’m not sure that all peoples bodies are absolutely sure of their gender all of the time. I think gender is something negotiated, tested, tried, reinforced, challenged and confused. I think the experience of gendering is negotiated within the morass of fleshy stuff which comprises the mortal coil of you, and I, both probably sitting with numb buttocks reading a computer screen. Hands on a mouse. Are you 100% man in every pore, or 100% woman? and that turd yo did this morning, was it a boy turd or a girl turn? How did you know? Mayhem is beholden to the creed that bodies are ambiguous disruptive things, and that a fixity of gendered cultural relations can only be maintained by processes of disembodiment. English please? If you can’t feel your body, can’t feel the ambiguity of that turd, the crease behind your knee, your stomach, your snot, your ear wax, the crook in your finger, the flaccid folds of flesh in your underwear, that hair curling on the nape of your neck. (like who has the time to code all of these as masculine or feminine) then it’s easier to feel assured of your gender as some unified, seamless subject.

Unified seamless subjects, like the phallus act in coherent one-eyed unison in relation to the world around them. They see one thing at one time. Their bodies are reduced to a set of codes. Voyeur, viewed, subject, object. No time for ambiguity. No fluids. The key to reducing the body to a set of codes is of course – to evacuate any disruptive experience of it. control, contain, remove bodies from the visual experience. Cinemas do it by having comfy chairs, where crowds of people get to play quadriplegic for 90minutes. Glue arse to comfy chair. Don’t move feet, have strawed drinks and hands free nibblies on hand. Have no hands. Furniture that fixes our heads into a single position, a set viewing range for a set time. Mayhem hates choosing a cinema seat for this reason.

I dunno what the cinemas are like in Latvia but in “Breathing Prohibited”, Eveline Deicmane has created something perfectly brilliant for a comment on ALL OF THE ABOVE. The black burqua boxes create a gliding fusion between the cinematic viewing regime and that of the gallery experience that is delightfully deliciously almost perfect. Entering a black box inside a white box – our bodies dissolve into mere armatures for our eyeballs. Well, almost. I fidgeted in the dark, but felt too disquieted to wank, phallic longings aside.

I wish I hadn’t been too trashy the previous week, when I’d visited the AGNES with my finnish friend Kaisa. We were mean tot be doing the biennale together as part o our great plans for an art theory panel on Deleuzian Aesthetics and feminist epistemology at the end of the year. It’s going to be about all of the above – and strategies for researching and describing art practice beyond notions of representation or disembodiedness. But last week I was so trashy that all I could do was go ‘hey, look, that’s me! There’s Zanny!’ in the Fiona Tan photo constellation at the bottom of the escalators. The book has a picky of my lounge-room too. Mayhem is everywhere. So much for curing my mirror stage.

Anyway – the above is meant to be a long winded plug for the Deicmane piece. GO TO AGNSW FIRST AND GO INSIDE A BOX AND PEER AND PONDER. And then wander inside a great big black room with TABAIMO’s animation on a big screen, and enjoy yourself for a minute. Spread out across the lounge. If you wanna do serious contemplative video art installation – then stroll down to Harry’s pie cart, and cross the road into Artspace. Tacita Deans video installation for BOOTS is one of the most successful things I’ve seen in the gunnery cave for a long time. 3 video rooms that can almost be viewed simultaneously if you don’t mind mashing your head into one of the vintage industrial uprights of the old warehouse squat that was.

There’s so much good stuff in the biennale that I could have written long winded rants in the previous two fortnights – and could still write more. Mayhem holds to the belief that what makes video art, video ART as opposed to Video – is the condition where the spectator’s body can be engaged with. You don’t have to sit through a whole video piece to have seen it. you don’t have to sit anywhere in particular. You don’t have to sit. You can wander around, crouch, lie, walk up to it so the screen becomes a mass of pixels. Peer from the sides or not even look at it. you might just hear some noise and hate it like I did at walsh bay with the bad screaming sax of Almagul Manlibeyava’s video. I don’t care if Punk has reached Kazakhstan, it sounded like shit and I thought Paci’s chandelier was pretentious and the whole downstairs area looked not enough unlike expo ’88 to make me feel happy. But there’s still some great work there.

I keep returning to the video works –because I’m interested in ho this cinematic medium can be made non-cinematic. I’ll get over it so bear with me. There’s lots of nice installationy-sculptural stuff too.

Beyond the biennale I wandered into the moricave and saw Khaled Sabsabi’s incredible video installation; it think it’s called refuge. Sabsabi has done electronic and audio work for donkey’s years – and this has extended to the finely crafted audio scape – a sonic cone of sub bass thrums that hums beneath the traffic noise outside, and provides a lovely audio ‘ground’ for the visuals. 3 big screens, a cycling tryptic not unlike Tacita Dean. On comprises bass relief over exposed black and white moving images of a faceless head, and industrial bleached out landscapes that…. Yeah, must be Beirut or something. And the other two are immense red slides fading in and out, gashing, wounded cedar flesh. Ana Mendieta eat your heart out. This is Lebanese nostalgia, as raw aching visceral sensation, spiced with faded vague memories. It is incredibly moving. If you have a teleporter handy you can goo directly from that into Joyce Salloums installation at the MCA. There you can move edgily between seats and headphones, witnessing testimonies, and weeping. There needs to be more weeping in galleries. Some work is worth it.

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