Presented as part of the D.C.A’s Contemporary Art Encounters programme:
Thank you very much. My name is James, im a Gallery Assistant here at the DCA. Im going to present our afternoon’s token academic, theoretically driven- boring- part of the Contemporary Art Encounters programme. They thought i would be perfect for the boring parts, strangely.
Im going to present a very straightforward thesis, that’s only a little controversial, and i hope by the end of my argument, it wont seem to be so controversial at all. The thesis follows on from a book by contemporary film theorist Steven Shaviro called ‘The Post -Cinematic Affect’. In our information space at the D.C.A, we have Sean Cubitt’s book ‘The Cinema Effect’, and this book by Shaviro is a kind of follow up, a critical expansion of the book, i assume, with a greater analysis of how cinema operates today in the ‘mediasphere’ ( T.V, internet, cinema, galleries, print etc etc)
I will argue that the show here at the DCA has more in common- and should be understood as a response to the tradition of cinema- rather than a response to the history of video art ( Warhol, Naumann, Chris Burden etc) So far, not so controversial. I would like to take the argument further, and be a little more controversial and say, even as a materialist, that the show has more in common with the contemporary ‘post-cinematic‘ over any contemporary art scene, particularly the artists peers who are native to Glasgow and who all have a connection with Dundee. Many of these were here for the opening last month ( Alex Frost, Scott Myles) The show- ‘Startle Reaction’- is in fidelity to the history of cinema, that it’s a response to the traditions, conventions and limitations of cinema also. So it’s in a tradition of the moving image called ‘cinema’ rather than overly concerned with the story of representation dating back to Giotto. Let me begin with the controversy, now.
In Shaviro’s book, i would like to hone in on one film work that he cites as a prime example of the ‘Post Cinematic’. Its a film called ‘Southland Tales‘ directed by Richard Kelly, the man behind Donnie Darko. What is more fascinating than the film itself is the way it haemorrhages into other media and what Shaviro calls generally the ‘mediasphere‘. Like Southland tales is cinema haemorrhaging into the ‘real’ world, in Lauchmann’s show we have art engaging in the opposite flow, back into cinema.
To understand the film in terms of a pure movie however, is to neglect the jouissance, the excess it produces, as Shaviro contends. It’s a film that stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Rock, the guy that played Stifler in American Pie, Mandy Moore , Kevin Smith and Miranda Richardson. This package is designed to be startling, both familiar and inexplicable.
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a porn star turned actress; The Rock plays a presidential candidate who has lost his memory; Justin Timberlake plays an ex-soldier hooked on drugs. The film knows we know who these people are in the ‘reality’ and plays with our expectations, or rather subverts them.
This ‘Post-Cinematic‘ mediasphere is as key to the film as the plot we see develop in front of our eyes in real-time. For example, prior to the film’s release, we had the connected pleasures of: Richard Kelly’s graphic comic book which details the film’s back-story; the fact many of the film’s characters had their own facebook page or myspace accounts; The Treer corporation( the film’s token evil corporation) had its own real website; ‘Teen Horniness is Not a Crime‘, is available from i-tunes, as performed by Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character is a fantastic pastiche of the 21st century r n’ b pop song. All this is not to mention the DVD features: filming bloopers, or commentaries by the director, or deleted scenes- which are all secondary experiences of the filmic to be had outside the ‘film’ itself. All these add together to downplay the privileged role of the cinematic experience as an isolated event unfolding in real-time before out eyes. And all this doesn’t even count the interviews with the film’s stars, the reviews, the advertisements etc etc in the ‘real’ world which inform our understanding of the context the film plays out against.
As a critic like Mark Kermode ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWZ-VyTo5YU) calls ‘Southland Tales‘ the worst film of all time he means it; its no hyperbole for him. The film is stuffed, confused, saturated, mind bogglingly complicated. However, he’s judging only one part of it, or rather, unaware of the holistic hole it creates by being played out against a backdrop of these different media, which condition its story. The film ‘reel’ is only one part of the movie. The film is ‘played’ not just on theatre screens but across these different forms of new media so of course we don’t get the stroy fully if we only watch the film; its not enough to fully appreciate what Kelly is trying to do.
The Post-Cinematic as Hegemonic Visual Medium
So when is the ‘Post-Cinematic’ age? For Shaviro explains:
‘ Film gave way to television as a ‘cultural dominant’ a long time ago, in the mid-20th century; television in turn has given way in recent years to computer and network based, and digitally generated ‘ new media’. Film itself has not disappeared, of course, but filmmaking has been transformed, over the past two decades, from an analog process to a heavily digitised one….these changes have been massive enough… that we are now witnessing the emergence of a different media regime…. digital technologies together with neo-liberal economic relations have given birth to radically new ways of manufacturing and articulating lived experience’ (p2, Shaviro, Steven, ‘The Post-Cinematic Affect’, Zero books, London, 2011)
In a more Marxist analysis, we could say this ‘hegemony’ of new media and digital technologies happened first in a ‘qualitative’ sense rather than being a quantative shift. For example, in Marx, factory and industrial production triumphed over agricultural production at first qualitatively, by which i mean that society began to adopt the expectation of the factory and supplant that onto the rest of the social body; it was a sign of things to come. No longer was the agricultural day the norm for society; the agricultural day decided by sun rise and sun fall became obsolete with the requirements of the factory and its adoption of the clock to regiment time. Old school manual editing was very fordist; Today’s digital editing is tied to the economy and technologies of Post-Fordism.
What is ‘Affect’, and When is it ‘Emotion’?
For Shaviro, there is a distinction between ‘Affect’ and ‘Emotion’, following on from the Deleuzian Brian Massumi
Affect: general, non-specific, ungraspable, overwhelming, ‘primary, non-conscious, asubjective, pre-social’
Emotion: is derivative, conscious, representable, can be encoded in language, it has a content and a context.
Emotion is captured or domestication of the ‘real’ of the affect. We can never directly articulate the Affect, but we can articulate and express the emotional.
Lauchmann and the Post-Cinematic Affect
‘Its a movie as its designed to be viewed on an enormous screen. However, its audiovisual flow is entirely post-cinematic’ and of a place within the video-based and digital media networks ‘which condition and alter its reception, or even perception.’ ( Shaviro on Southland Tales, which i argue can also be said about Lauchmann’s show)
Lauchamann as Post-Cinematic in terms of Form
The Post-Cinematic- in terms of both form and content- can be defined as an adventure into the ungraspable. For example, connections in Richard Kelly’s montages are allusive and hard to pin down; likewise the relationship between the works in Gallery 2 by Lauchmann are equally provocative, yet fundamentally, mysterious, and therefore ungraspable. The show is not beyond the conceptual- like the film- but rather everything seems there to play with our capacity for the production of ‘Affect’ (which seems to work best when their is ambiguity or mystery in the works on show )
Firstly, Southland Tales often attempts to recreate the look of a P.C with many windows open on screen, like if one was browsing the internet. Like the film and the gallery installation between them, my eyes no longer ‘know‘ where to look. This is one key formal element of the Post-Cinematic art experience, quite literally, as it sprawls across the screen, or gallery, or even various media outside its ‘home’ context.
In terms of editing, Southland Tales overlays, juxtaposes and restlessly moves between multiple images and sounds. We have this same mad dance through the audio/visual as to which happens in Lauchmann’s gallery two installation. The sounds stumble over one another, the images flash on and off, the images come and go, hypnotically entrancing ( albeit at slower pace than most of what happens in Southland Tales, but I believe this is anecdotal) This overload of sensation- a visual style of the intense- is mirrored in both the film and the exhibition.
Also, the style of Southland Tales and the exhibition are very similar: as moments of calm and nothingness give way to moments of intensity and activity ( like when a snow machine starts up out of nowhere, only to be followed by a light and a pianola playing itself) The visual style of the archetypal Post-Cinematic movie is one of very little going on, and then all of a sudden… something unexpected or frenetic or disturbing or ridiculous will happen. Something will happen that is paradoxically out of place to the moment, yet seems to belong to whole. This paradox is ungraspable and builds a part in the key component of the Post-Cinematic.
‘Southland Tales’ nor ‘Startle Reaction’ are edited to conventional cinematic logic. With Lauchmann, in gallery two of the show, we have jumps from one work to another, and therefore, in effect, no set way to traverse or view the works which makes total sense. The viewer is free to choose their pathways and chronological means of engaging with the works. In fact, there will not be two ‘exact’ screenings as depending on when the loops finish playing and one enters the gallery, it’s up to the viewer to connect the different works, to create a whole from the fragments. Kelly deploys a very similar task in Southland Tales. Cognitively, all the pieces are there, it’s up to us to connect it.
Therefore, watched passively, it will be incoherent and unsatisfactory: incomplete, fragmented, confusing, forever stalled. One must dive in to get the most enjoyment. The viewer becomes the author of their engagement with the whole through the putting together cognitively of the parts. There is an element of immaterial labour in the appreciation process, therefore; we have to labour to make sense of it all. In the realms of capitalism, I would argue that we can be ‘paid’ in sensation and pleasure in return for our labour-time of attention.
Lauchmann as Post-Cinematic in terms of Content
Like any Post-Cinematic film, we can’t quite put our finger on it, we can’t domesticate the ‘Affect’ it produces. This is why i believe Torsten Lauchmann’s show remains interesting after several visits. There is an understanding to be had of the Post – Cinematic beyond the cognitive, in the moments we are traversed by Affect, unable to compile it all together, to transform it into emotion, a point where we are in limbo between enjoyment and displeasure, before we even -objectively- have grasped for an opinion of the ‘thing’. Beyond the purely cognitive and the corporeal, we have a new way to understand, a new ‘language’ that we can’t speak, that doesn’t speak to us in a way we can fully comprehend. Not to say it would be impossible, rather we are not Affect-literate yet as a culture in our appreciation of cinema and art in general.
Images in both Lauchmann’s show and Kelly’s Southland Tales do not fit together in any sensible way. It is beyond any attempt to domesticate the images because there appears to be sense to them being together or even bringing them together. This is because in this slicing together of audio/ visual singularities the narrative breaks down and remoulds itself according to the viewer. The narrative is only half told, half implied, half made; the viewer can complete and can therefore only be lead so far toward one interpretation. In the film there is one scene where Justin Timberlake sings The Killers, then in the next one we have the ‘euphoria’ of the rock anthem ‘mixed’ into dance musician Moby’s minimalist techno.
They seem to fit but yet not quite. Almost making sense is the pleasure of the Post-Cinematic; ‘Evocative in ways we don’t know why, that we cant pin down’ is how Shaviro describes it. Why is the disco ball there in Lauchmann’s show, in a piece featuring Charlie Chaplin? In the same way Shaviro asks why a toy soldier crawls along the floor in Southland tales in a scene near the start, it is evocative and provocative in ways we can’t quite capture, in ways we can’t compute or complete comprehensively- and yet we are not angry by this. It almost makes sense and this is how it is forgiven. Lauchmann and Kelly peer into the ‘Real’ as far as they can go- and then quickly retreat before we are descended into madness. It makes both makes sense and it doesn’t; the ‘evocative‘ in the Post-Cinematic is on a knife edge between cognition and the incomprehensible.
The role of technology in both Lauchmann and Kelly includes the utilisation of new media in an almost ironic way; critical, yet all the art hinges on the potentials of technology and digital media. Both Lauchmann and Kelly are utilising new media to critique new media; being aware of its emacipatory potentials and its ability to cleanse the mind of history and burden. This is both a positive force and a negative pull. But it is in this inbetween we can imagine the future.
In the regime of the Post-Cinematic, there is an impossibility of ‘spectatorship’ as things are too confused to remain passive for the viewer. We are always shocked back into life, by confusion or intrigue. One must either ignore or be unmoved, or opposingly, be moved by the ‘Affect’ of the Post-Cinematic. The ethics of the Post-Cinematic is a plea toward the transformative; the potential to believe in the world again. The Post-Cinematic creates not an illusion or deception but it makes reality the idea that something else is possible. With no enforced narrative it also allows a more democratic play with the art encounter; the viewer can be invited to let oneself go, be accepting of the ambiguity and sensation of the ‘Affect’, the unnameable thing that takes over the subject. The ethics teaches us not to be scared of the ungraspable; it’s always almost in our reach. The ungraspable can be a better world; in the Post-Cinematic we are invited to imagine, to fill the gaps. What does the ungraspable to do me? It makes me think of all that is possible, but all that is just out of our reach.
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