Fuel for Thought: oil, energy, conflict and art
Vol 28 no 1, 2008
How are artists responding to peak oil, the search for alternative energy sources and conflict over resources? Artlink goes global in search of answers. The issue includes artists who have used alternative energy or whose work reflects the negative effects of an oil-based economy, with some powerful imagery by artists from the Middle East, East Timor, Iraq, the Philippines, Australia, California and Chicago. Burnt out petrol bowsers share the space with artwork which looks forward to a post-oil energy scenario. A video animation by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong offers a profoundly moving experience on mankind's disastrous love affair with industrialisation. Australian artists include Charles Green and Lyndell Brown as official war artists in Iraq, as well as Alison Clouston, Zina Kaye, Madeleine Kelly, Carmel Wallace, Pamela Kouwenhoven and more. Editor Ian Hamilton.
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Christian Marclay Ghost (I DonÕt Live Today) 1985, video, 5 mins, courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.
As a kind of anthropologist, US-Swiss artist Christian Marclay epitomises the participant observer, charting from within the material cultures, interactions and commodity exchanges of two hugely important 'empires', image and sound. Their intermingling generates much of our popular culture but they have arguably yet to come to a full understanding of each other. Marclay has been exploiting this divide and charting its borders for over thirty years as an experimental musician and artist working with the legacies of performance art, Fluxus and punk since a move to New York in the late seventies.
Replay: Christian Marclay, originally curated by Emma Lavigne for the Musée de la Musique in Paris, unfortunately tells only half that story. Marclay's many assemblages and sculptures, including his well-known record cover collages and the floor of CDs to be scored by people's feet are missing from the exhibition. This will frustrate those looking for a 'proper' retrospective, and is doubly unfortunate because Marclay's insight has always hinged on the commodified materiality of musical and visual culture.
Nevertheless, in the videos that wholly comprise the show, Marclay's shifting emphases are clear. A few early performance videos chronicle the urgency of punk and its DIY dictates regarding the virtues of ineptitude. Marclay's independent, almost-too-good-to-be-true appropriation of turntables and LPs (it still defies belief that Marclay, in NYC in 1978, could be unaware of the pioneering hip hop experiments of DJ Kool Herc or Grandmaster Flash) as anti-virtuosic performance strategies are minimally outlined.
A discernible insistence on his own virtuosity leads logically enough to the main emphasis of Replay Marclay, the artist's later experiments with film, that allow Marclay to remix visual representations along with the continuum of music, sound and noise. Marclay's film re-edits are primitive but pleasurable deconstructions. Telephones (1995) for example, one of the earlier video works included is nothing more than a montage of people using telephones, drawn from a wide variety of films. These clips are put together in a way that makes it seem that there is one comprehensible conversation taking place.
Steve Martin did the same thing twenty-five years ago in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid by mixing live-action with 'found' footage to make it look like he was on the phone to Humphrey Bogart. Marclay however pushes these Gestalt games much further, while maintaining the humorous strategies that Martin's comedy classic deployed. Marclay shows us the workings of the cinematic apparatus by stretching the grammatical glue of shot/reverse/shot to its limits (the telephone changes colour and shape from shot to shot but it's still ringing so we patiently wait for someone to answer it). This is unquestionably pleasurable, like the sensation of perceptual puzzles where we teeter between two mutually-exclusive images: the duck/rabbit effect.
Marclay begs us to show off our filmic knowledge, even while using the original clips 'formally' so that this knowledge is not strictly necessary. Recognising, say, James Stewart in Vertigo offers another layer of enjoyment, unleashing parallel or even conflicting narratives and associations as we consider the Hitchcock film alongside the Marclay video.
Part of the fun in these genre pieces, including the musical compilation Video Quartet (2002) and the percussive gunfire spectacle Crossfire (2007), is in Marclay's manipulation of filmic syntax, the tropes and clichés that characterise answering the phone, slow and deliberate or crazed lunge, or the sexualised grammar of firing a gun, unsheathing it, letting off a burst, stopping to breathlessly reload, the final climactic shoot-out.
As a border-crossing participant, an observer and bricoleur native to neither the zone of music or sound, Marclay is open to charges of only superficially understanding the genres he nominally reinvigorates. In this view he is neither a good musical composer nor an attentive film historian. Marclay's best works, like Crossfire or Video Quartet, might not make interesting headphone music, and they are not video essays in the style of an artist like Chris Marker, but really these criticisms miss the point. Marclay's practice is best understood as spectacle, a total synthesis of image and sound. Spectacular, like the popular culture it's pieced together from, but when played back it can help us distinguish signal from noise amidst the cultural din.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Editorial: Editorial
- Featue: Writing images with words: an inheritance of ambiguous faces
- Feature: A rusty sign at the end of a bloody empire
- Feature: Chance encounters: Pamela Kouwenhoven and Peter McKay
- Feature: Conducting Mobility
- Feature: Hyperlexic, desalinated but not scary
- Feature: Obscure dimensions of conflict
- Feature: Power and art in East Timor
- Feature: Rabih Mroué and Lina Saneh interview
- Feature: The error of our ways: Madeleine Kelly
- Feature: The revolution will not be televised: the changing landscape of film and video production in the Arab world
- Feature: The whistleblower of Discovery Bay
- Feature: The winding way
- Feature: Watching as the enchanted land meets its end: Qiu Anxiong
- Feature: World tree: sounds of a bigger picture. Alison Clouston and Boyd
- Preview: Biennale of Sydney 2008: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
- Preview: Handling the Adelaide Biennial
- Review: Economy
- Review: Fierce or Friendly: Humans in the Animal World
- Review: from time to time one talks to the moon: Aldo Iacobelli
- Review: Making it Modern The Watercolours of Kenneth McQueen
- Review: Migratory Projects: The Drive Out Cinema
- Review: Of
- Review: ON' n 'ON
- Review: Our Lucky Country - (Still Different)
- Review: Replay: Christian Marclay
- Review: Robert MacPherson, Vernon Ah Kee and Jeremy Hynes
- Review: The Road to Here
- Review: Wonderful World
- Review: [the space in between] Book project