Anodyne
Saturday, August 19, 2006
 
Hey, Wes Anderson!

"The other change that we would have to make would concern Mark Mothersbaugh. Everyone in Hollywood knows that he is a first class professional musical supervisor. Obviously you and he have a lot of great history together and we can imagine there is a certain rapport both professional and personal. But we certainly can't work with him, anymore than he would consent to work with us. Same thing for the mandolins and the twelve-string stuff and the harpsichord, they're out. You yourself may be partial to those particular instruments. We're not. Remember, we saw 'Tom Jones' in its original theatrical release when we were still in high school, we had to listen to 'Walk Away Renee' all through college and we fucking opened for Roger McGuinn in the seventies, so all that 'jingle-jangle morning' shit is no big thrill for us, OK?"
 

Midway up the SE face, the route steepening above, far from internets and cheapskate hipsters seeking deals on table books. Photograph by Simon Chesterton.
Friday, August 18, 2006
 
Review of an exhibition of photographs and bookworks by Hans-Peter Feldmann, curated by Roy Arden, at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery. Forthcoming in the Fillip Review. Obsessively re-edited Saturday morning.

Feldmann's Tact

By Christopher Brayshaw

Hans-Peter Feldmann’s recent exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery implies a staged confrontation between two antagonistic versions of photographic history. 100 Years, a series of 101 black and white portrait photographs, is installed in the larger B.C. Binning Gallery. Each subject’s specificity is enhanced by Feldmann’s camera’s sharp focus and the artist’s attentiveness to the smallest details of physiognomy and gesture, which enables his sitters’ personalities to fully emerge.

In the smaller Alvin Balkind Gallery, the look of the late 1960s, of photography as, or in the service of, conceptual art, predominates. Unframed prints are ganged along the wall in sequences and series. Many hang from long thin pins; the prints’ curled edges shiver as you pass. Other pictures are gathered in books or cheaply bound and printed booklets, and laid out on a white examinination table, with their places marked by blurry black and white photocopies of their covers. The pins and the table are deliberate artistic choices. They indicate that the photographs are not unique and precious, but are just containers for content, or “information,” in 60s-speak. The aesthetics of display indicate that the content of each individual image is insignificant. A single picture of a ripe red strawberry, or a car radio, or the view from a hotel room window is meaningless on its own. Only when these banal images are joined as a sequence or series under the guiding hand of a larger anthropological, sociological, or philosophical program, as in the work of artists such as Douglas Huebler, Ed Ruscha, or Feldmann himself, do they yield deeper meanings.

These considerations are reinforced by the many different styles Feldmann employs. The single berries that comprise One Pound of Strawberries are shot in lush color and high-focus close-up, a “look” meant to inflame desire, a kind of visual pornography I associate with the Woodward’s and Stongs grocery flyers delivered to my parents’ West Vancouver home in the 1970s. Other pictures, of sunsets or of brilliant blue skies marked by white wisps of cloud, emulate the look of photographic amateurism, or, alternately, the bank calendar/corporate lobby photomural landscapes reproduced to devastating effect by artists such as Vikky Alexander, Louise Lawler, and Lynn Cohen.

By juxtaposing these styles with appropriated commercial studio portraits, landscapes, amateur snapshots, pornography, and others, Feldmann puts the whole question of photographic style into quotation marks. Style here is not the expression of a unique sensibility or subjectivity, but a grammar, a set of rhetorical tools chosen for its ability to perform specific work, or to do a particular job. Style is something that can be freely chosen, put on, taken off, or recombined, just like the items that make up All The Clothes of a Woman, another Feldmann photo-sequence from the 1970s.

Feldmann’s thinking about style differs from that of other artists who employ appropriated images, such as Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, and Barbara Kruger. All three of these artists use appropriated photographs, or cropped details from the same, to question notions of photographic authenticity, and to explore how images’ meanings change as they are produced and re-produced in a kind of Borgesian infinite regression. Feldmann is not concerned by photography’s capacity for infinite reproducibility; he seems to take this as a fundamental characteristic of the medium, and, as such, not specifically worthy of attention.

Many commentators on Feldmann’s work describe the enormous image archive his various projects are drawn from. Indeed, Feldmann seems to make no distinction between photographs he has made, and photographs taken by others and re-presented by him. A Sherrie Levine copy of an Edward Weston or a Walker Evans photograph, on the other hand, derives its critical authority from the recognition that the image presented under Levine’s name is not originally hers, that it has been wrestled from another artist, as if by force. Levine’s works allude to an inter-generational struggle whereby young artists gain critical space for their own work by overturning or transfiguring the work of prior generations. Feldmann side-steps this farcical “quarrel between the ancients and the moderns.” If an appropriated image serves his purpose, he cheerfully employs it. If he cannot find a suitable photograph, he makes a new image. Feldmann thus shifts the critical focus of his work away from the by now clichéd distinction between “original” and “appropriated” photography by letting his program of work guide his decisions to make or take images.

Some Feldmann projects like Birgit, All The Clothes of a Woman, or Women in Prison depend on the artist’s special relationships with his subjects. Feldmann knows more about them than we do; his camera goes places and records things which depend on his ability to negotiate privileged “back stage” access. Other photographs, like those comprising the early bookwork Women’s Knees, could have been made by anyone. Feldmann’s specifications and limitations shape and guide the project, but its photographs are deliberately banal, anartistic, “unauthored.”

Significantly, Feldmann does not assign different aesthetic weights to these projects. His tact and restraint imply an equality between them. The subtlety of this gesture obscures the radical philosophical position behind it. By implying an aesthetic equivalence between his different projects, between artist-made and appropriated imagery, and between singular images and images whose meaning depends upon their being linked with others in sequences and series, Feldmann short-circuits the Hegelian narratives of succession and displacement governing western art history. Conceptual and stylistic linearity is dispersed into a field, or fields, of possibilities, turning viewers’ attention back to each individual work's content. The staged confrontation implied by the exhibition’s installation at the Contemporary Art Gallery is revealed as a conceptual gesture in its own right, one that pits supposedly incompatible techniques and styles against each other, yet finds equal value in both.

This paradox – that content had to vanish, that artists had to believe, or at least pretend to believe, in the “dematerialization” of content in order to re-engage with it, is an old theme in the history of conceptual art. But the paradox’s applicability is not limited to conceptual art. Indeed, it is integral to depiction itself, a position that can be illustrated by reference to some of Feldmann’s extended series, such as his ongoing portraits of “car radios while good music was playing.” These snapshot photographs show what they purport to depict: there the radios are, and the pictures’ humor resides in our recognition that the ostensible content of the work – “good music” – cannot be represented photographically. While the pictures purport to document an event, that documentation is profoundly incomplete. We cannot tell, for example, whether Mozart, Gnarls Barkley, Miles Davis, or Bob Dylan inspired Feldmann’s picture-making.

It's easy to liken the car radio series to other conceptually related projects by artists like Douglas Huebler or Robert Barry, whose photographs deliberately fail to capture content, thereby gesturing at photography’s representational limits. This is a critique of the omniscience of picture-making. But good representations – pictures – have always been at pains to acknowledge these limits. The blurs, mismatched contours, and raw surfaces of Cezanne’s late paintings are a way of getting at the same thing: a content, whether the color of leaves or a song on a car radio, that can only be represented indirectly, by being gestured at, or pointed towards. In this way, sophisticated picture-making always stops short of claims of universal mastery, remaining open, its structure flexible, like an earthquake-proof building designed to flex but not collapse when the ground moves under it.

Feldmann’s tact, then, is to not ally his work with “conceptual art,” “straight photography,” or that weirdest of bastard offspring, “photo-conceptualism,” but with the older forms of depiction that permeate photography, forms that do not require their practitioners to choose between competing versions of history, but simply make many different ways of depicting simultaneously available to artists like Feldmann who have the intelligence, wit, and good judgement to employ them.


 

Another Pulpfiction purchase sidles into art history. Painting by Brad Phillips.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
 

Stonerabbit Peak southeast face, 16 August 2006. From left to right: Ted Oliver, cjb, Denis Blair. Courtesy guest photographer Simon Chesterton. Lengthy trip report coming soon.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
 

Off with some Internet friends to climb this lovely 1000m granite face tomorrow. Pretty exposed, but no rope required, according to the few parties who've made the burly 4-wheel drive high-clearance approach. Photo courtesy Vancouver climber Brad Braun's website. Check out the very last picture of the jeep-gobbling logging road-cum-rock garden!
 
A.L. Kennedy's FAQ

"Q: DO YOU LIKE YOUR BOOKS ?

ALK: They’re the best I could do at the time. But no, I don’t like them. And it’s not part of my job description to even find them bearable."
Monday, August 14, 2006
 
Long essay on German photographer Hans-Peter Feldmann forthcoming in Fillip magazine. I'll post it here when the copy-correcting's done.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
 

Stolen pickup, 8th and Main. Piloted up Main at better than 70 miles an hour, narrowly missing a pedestrian I had been talking to less than five minutes before, and rammed into the decorative chain fence outside Architectural Antiques. Junkie Thief the driver and Junkie Thief Jr. the passenger leapt out, grabbed all their stolen loot from the cab, and ran like hell down 8th Avenue and into the alley behind the Lee Building, where they were boxed in by the VPD and numerous irate neighbors.

Anyone tempted to romanticize or dismiss Vancouver's totally out-of-control drug problem is welcome to work a shift at either shop, where you will repeatedly encounter obnoxious crackhead thieves, harmless but disfunctional crackheads and meth heads, and self-righteous long term heroin addicts as a basic part of your 8-hour day.
 

Smiley Faces

"He was the music of the last century."
 

Squonk 2.0

Toronto's Jennifer McMackon wastes no time in relaying this tale:

"When my older brother moved out of our parents' house to go to university, we spent a delirious weekend painting all his furniture Naples Yellow and then endowing it (to scale, ie. sides of bookshelves etc.) with creatures from Trick of the Tail.

I had it on eight track!"

An album I have loved (& still love) on cassette (2 copies), vinyl (3 copies), CD (regular; "definitive edition remaster") and assorted bootlegs since my teens. I own every Genesis album ever issued in some form or another (even the lame CD released by Ray Wilson-fronted Incarnation #3, after Dr. Evil departed for a solo career singing "sensitive" James Blunt-style ballads and scoring Disney soundtracks), but TOTT and its follow-up, Wind and Wuthering, are the only two I still listen to with pleasure.
 

Just for fun, Incarnation #1 of Strangest British Supergroup, featuring an even younger Dr. Evil, and a very young, very androgynous Peter Gabriel on vocals.
 

In Season, Out of Season

Today's Youtube: Squonk, an old guilty pleasure, the man soon to be reborn as Dr. Evil fronting this strangest of British supergroups.

In one hand bread, the other a stone
The hunter enters the forest...

Over my speakers, Sunday morning, the scent of tropical Vim Oxy Gel rising off the floor. Outside, quiet Main Street in the dusty August sunlight, still-curing curbs wrapped in red caution tape and pylons. The occasional car or bus bumping over the big steel plates in the road, covering the excavation the city's works crew dug across Broadway on Friday in preparation for a new sewer pipe or water main.

Class act 101: the city flagger who wandered into Cuppa Joe around noon on Friday, barged to the head of the five-person line, short-circuited complaints by holding up her big red reflective STOP sign, and ordered coffee to go.

Five cases of new books (60 linear feet!) cleaned and priced since Thursday, with the same amount again still waiting on the counter.

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