The Scholar and the Feminist XIV (Women in the 21st Century: Looking Forward and Looking Back): Afternoon Workshop 19, part 1

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  • Marianne Weems: Thanks for coming and for enjoying this lovely environment. My name is Marianne Weems. This is Aimee Rankin, Leslie Thornton, and Andrea Fraser. I’m playing the part of the moderator and they're playing the part of the panelists. And I'll tell you more about them before they give their individual spiels. The name of this workshop is Changing Representations of Women: three Artists Critical Views.
  • And I just wanted to briefly outline a few issues in relation to this title and in relation to my original ideas for doing the workshop. And maybe this will serve as points of discussion later after we look at the work. The idea of a changing representation is a problematic one and I'm going to begin with it and its relationship to the second component of the title, mainly women. By this I mean that the work we’re going to look at deals on some level with issues of female spectatorship. I.e from what position women articulate desire, take up the position of looking, and produce images and text. In broad terms, female spectators act as one side of the conflict between culturally giving codes and readings which might open up happier alternative subject positions.
  • I’m gonna quote from Sylvia [Kobowski's] article Savages of Femininity Domestic [Salves]. "As mastery listness becomes a mystery to be plumbed, women must keep moving. We've already learned how to be shiftless. We must begin to shift for ourselves. But to shift between what has been represented and what we would like to represent, involves both an echoing and a refusal of historically and culturally determined codes".
  • I would like to briefly raise this issue particularly in relation to Amy and Leslie's work which engages, I would argue, on some level in a strategy of excess, flooding the visual screen with lush but all too familiar images to confound readability through the repetition of conflicting cultural meanings. The reproduction of these visual cliches acts as a kind of overkill. A framing of the murderous aspects of representation. A bracketing of shiftlessness. But it is also an acknowledgement of a sort of cultural bludgeon to which we are subject and by which we are informed. The acknowledgement of this formation and the play around it can also be read as an ambivalence toward assuming a stance of mastery or distance. A kind of personal inflection and disclosure of desire within the larger scope of cultural critique.
  • The other point I want to raise is to say that this ambivalence, the relationship of identification with, and refusal of the image, is exposed in the work of Andrea Fraser through the incorporation of misrecognition as a strategy. By this I mean that in taking up the position of the authoritative speaker as we are about to see her do, and simultaneously foregrounding her position as the site of a plurality of codes, you could say that she intervenes with our reading of the coherent subject and with our comprehension of the institutions which frame her.
  • So, Andrea Fraser has recently given her gallery talks at the New Museum and at artists space. She has also shown at Gallery at Atrium Ward and at Hallwalls [Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center] among other places. She has most recently published an article entitled “The Will Rogers Foundation Audience Collection Trailer" in Hallwells catalogue. And her criticism is also been published an Afterimage and Art in America. She's also published a book of her own work entitled: Woman 1/Madonna and Child, 1506-1967. Andrea Fraser: My turn? Marianne Weems: [laughing] Yeah your turn.
  • Andrea Fraser: I'm going to talk about a gallery talk I was given last year [laughing] by a woman who introduced herself as Jane Castleton. Hi my name is Jane Castleton and I'd like to welcome all of you to the new Museum of Contemporary Art. Today we're going to talk about the current exhibition currently on view, Damaged Goods: Desire and the Economy of the Object. An exhibition about commodities and consumption. About presentation and display. But first, I'd like to tell you a little bit about the New Museum itself. In January 1984 the New Museum launched it’s docent program for a limited number of qualified individuals who now offered gallery talks.
  • My goal as, my goal. My goal as docent to the New Museum is to provide you with a perceptive and enjoyable experience with our art objects. An experience which will leave you with something to think about something to stretch your vision and something to encourage you to return. [laughter] Now let's look at this exhibition together. The exhibition's title as I said before, and as all of you probably know is Damaged Goods: Desire and the Economy of the Object.
  • Now what's that supposed to mean? [laughter] Well the phrase "damaged goods" invokes a number of associations for me. It may describe the state of inadequately packaged or slightly used products. Or for some it refers to women who aren't virgins. It's also the title of the movie about venereal disease. [laugher] As for desire and the economy of the object, well we could talk about fetishism. Commodity fetishism. Shoe fetishism, etcetera. A fetish is an object invested with irrational reverence or obsessional devotion. We could talk about the commodity as a perverse object that allows the subject to disavow sexual difference by functioning as a substitute for the mother's missing penis. [laughter] Or we could talk about the commodity as an ideological object that denies class contradiction by presenting itself as untouched by human hands; by containing no trace of the alienated labor that produced it.
  • Now we'll look at our first work. The consideration of material support in this work with its brilliant appeal to the contextual function of the image, undermines, uh, really undermines, the artworks traditional claim to autonomy. To transcend a meaning or truth. This particular image, as those of you are familiar with so-called international symbols probably already know, is supposed to represent a woman. A woman or rather even, women in general. Woman as such. Woman as a universally homogeneous category. In this sense, it can be situated in a tradition that stretches from the prehistoric Venus of Willendorf to the painting of Willem de Kooning. When asked how he felt about women, de Kooning said "I like women but they irritate me, they bother me." [laughter] There we have it. "I like women but they irritate me."
  • There's another International symbol towards the rear of the galleries, just left of the stairs to the mezzanine. But unfortunately the installation doesn't allow us to make a proper comparison. Because an appreciation of this work really depends on its contrast to that other image. After the talk some of you may want to go and look at it individually. The other image is supposed to represent a man. But the only difference between the two works, a little difference, but nevertheless that difference which makes this a woman and not a man is this, uh---odd triangular shape [laughter] that seems to begin somewhere around the figures armpits and then intersects or, sort of, bisects her, uh, mid stick legs as it were. [laughter] I know I'm forgetting something. Um, what do I want? No that's not it. A pencil slim mid length cashmere dress accentuated waist line with a slender crocodile belt. Oh, any shape will do. No, wait. I could see myself as that dress. I'd like to live like an article of clothing. Have have any of you ever thought about what it would be like to live like an article of clothing? I'd really like to live like an article of clothing. But then you know, I'm afraid that eventually I'd have no idea of the body that I put into this dress. Who would inhabit my clothing when I'm this dress?
  • I'd like to resemble a woman. Wouldn't it be nice to resemble a woman. I went to China once. Have any of you ever been to China? I went once right after it opened to westerners. When I got there some western products had got there before me. When I got there, I had the strangest experience in Peking. Walking down two streets right next to each other in Peking. One street had small shops with domestic products, the kind of street that's very common in cities in China. And walking down them was really like walking down all such streets. I felt more or less invisible. I really wasn't noticed at all. Just another body in a city of millions. But when I turned on to this other street, a street with western products displayed in windows and western forms of signage and advertising, it was very striking.
  • I was stared at, and gawked at, and leered at by men just like on a street in New York. Well, can I have the next slide please? [laughing] What beautiful jello. Next slide. Uh, here we have another international symbol. Here we have an example of art pottery. Art pottery is a term that loosely refers to ceramics made with aesthetic intent and respect for the handcrafted object. Art pottery was produced by commercial enterprises throughout the United States between 1875 and the 1920's. Now in contrast, and as I said earlier in the talk, an appreciation of this next work really depends on its contrast to this vessel. Can I have the next slide, please? In contrast, the force.... In contrast this deer shaped vessel is said to be from Chicama, the valley to the north of Chan Chan. The deer shaped vessel had been common to the north coast to Peru for over 2000 years.
  • During the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries the Chimu kingdom ruled the north coast of Peru from its capital of Chan Chan. Its monarchs amassed great wealth and constructed enormous walled compounds from which to protect it. These compounds contain so many objects made of precious metals, that during Spanish colonial times they were exploited as as mines. Current estimates suggest that there may have been 80 million Native Americans in Latin America when Columbus discovered the continent. By 1650, 95% of its population have been wiped out. The systematic extermination of Latin American's indigenous population continues today in Brazil, Paraguay, and Guatemala. Can we have the next slide, please?
  • Oh, uh. -- Notice the two painted squares. Notice how much larger, uh, the square on the left is than the square on the right. Well, the square on the left represents the amount that the United States and the European community spent on military research. While the square on the right represents the amount the same country spent on health research. That's what it says right there. Secretary of agriculture, John R. Block once said "Food is a weapon, but the way we use that weapon is to tie countries to us. That way they'll be reluctant to upset us." Our food aid program was designed to increase foreign consumption of US agricultural commodities, to increase the dependence of underdeveloped countries on imported foodstuffs, to promote US market development, to achieve short term foreign-policy goals, and to dispose of US surplus products.
  • When I was a little girl, I don't know how old I was three maybe four. No more than four. My father gave me a dime. A little girl could actually buy something with a dime then. Candy, colored pencils, a little doll. He gave me a dime so I let him put a thermometer up my ass. I ate it. It came out again of course, but when it did he wouldn't let me spend it. He gave me another one instead [laughter] but, you know it, it wasn't the same. It just, it really wasn't the same. [laughter]
  • Let's not just talk about fetishism. [laughter] That nice clean and proper perversion. [laughter] The perversion of polite society. Let's talk about scatology. Let's talk about coprophilia. Let's talk about incorporation, expulsion, destruction. Let's talk about consumption. Expenditure. Waste. Let's talk about shit. I give myself to you. But this gift of my person as they say, a mystery. It's changed inexplicably into a gift of shit.
  • You can take the slide down now [laughing]. My mother walked down the aisle once during one of my father's sermons with a bag of dirt and a folding table. She set up the table in front of the podium, poured the dirt onto the table, put it back into the bag, folded up the table and walked out.
  • Um, the gallery talk from which I just quoted was founded, it seems to me, on a refusal to talk about, or rather a staging of the impossibility of satisfiy. A demand implicitly addressed to a docent by those who attend gallery talks. A demand to know. To know what the exhibition is about. To know that the works in the exhibition are about. To to know what position one should take up in a gallery. To know what position one should take up in relation to what could be called, the desire of the museum. Or to push it even further, the desires...of the, of the class [laughs], the race, the sex that supports the museum through gifts and bequests. And to whom in the sense the museum truly belongs.
  • A docent is the museum's representative. And our function is quite simply to tell visitors what the museum wants. That is, to tell visitors what they can give to satisfy the museum. The desire of the subject to attend the gallery talk is thus the desire of the museum. Of course the museum doesn't exist, that is to say, not as a [design] subject. An art museum is a concrete institution with a concrete ideological agenda preserving the trophies of bourgeois prestige and promoting our communion with them as a way to happiness. Or at least a more graceful existence. Free of needs and troublesome unsatisfiable desire. And if this lure brings us to identify with the museum's benefactors and deposit our seduced unalienated demand at its door, the museum's docent might just become the other if it's addressed. The imaginary place of truth which can both receive our demand and satisfy it.
  • The demand of the subject who attends the gallery talk is thus the demand of the museum. Demand itself bears upon something other than the satisfactions that is calls for. It is demand of a presence, or of an absence. The demand of another to be situated within the needs it can satisfy. Demand constitutes the others already possessing the privilege of satisfying needs, that is to say, the power of depriving them of that alone by which they may be satisfied. Desire is that which is manifested within the interval that demand hollows out within itself, and as much as the subject in articulating the signifying chain brings to light the want to be, together with an appeal to receive the compliment from the other, if the other, the locus of speech is also the locus of this want or lack. Now you can't take me too seriously here [laughter]. Any assumption I might make of another's desire will amount to nothing more than my fantasy.
  • All I mean to say is that when I go to museums, I take care not to touch anything and I never use men's room. [laughter] The three men who were on duty refused to come to our help, arguing that they hadn't witnessed the attack. And even doubted that I was telling the truth. One of them even managed to ask my friend if the attacker had been an acquaintance of mine. I'm sure that if I had arrived telling you that I had been robbed it wouldn't have occurred to you to doubt my words. But my case was different. To sum up: one more woman was grabbed by man. What does it matter? She probably provoked it or else a lovers tiff. And if this were so then it's your problem. Who forces her to be a woman?
  • When I go to gallery talks I tend to assume that docent doesn't really know anything about art, maybe I giggle and satisfy myself by listening for some misquoted fact. But there really isn't any difference between listening for knowledge and listening for ignorance. The relation is the same. One knows in the other doesn't. Only the positions are inverted. I simply hold her up to another ideal image with which I've already identified. And fill her lack, my lack with a previous presence. Complete her discourse, my discourse with an already invested truth.
  • With respect to desire, the tendency towards subjection is nothing but the manifestation of this lure of fantasy, of truth, of completion, of satisfaction. By which the subject is maintained in a state of dependence on demands addressed to another who is constituted is just such an ideal Image. Just such a side of truth. An experience that is characterized the feminine. A poverty of desire, of having no recourse to sexuality or knowledge, except that which may or may not be answered in a demand addressed to another. From whom I should thankfully receive. A gift of speech, a moment of recognition. A pound of flesh or a piece of shit. Against the desire of the museum, I would situate the desire of the docent. The desire of the docent exists only to the extent that she does not know what the museum wants. To the extent that she does not identify with the position she's called upon to occupy as the other of demand. When she speaks as a docent, she doesn't address the works in the exhibition. When she addresses the works in the exhibition, she doesn't speak is a docent but as a subject of sexual differentiation. As a member of a particular class. As a documentarian, as a victim of torture as a child. Her speech is not reflexive but different. Not a mirroring of the discourse of the museum, but a series of metaphors in production which evoke a network of material and sexual relations in which the museum is only [one term].
  • Neither the desire of the museum or the desire of the docent are stable terms. They simply designate. The articulation of desire in a specific context. In this sense, the gallery talk is just one possible site and a relatively obscure and inconsequential one at that. Of an intervention on a relation of speech which has hundreds of manifestations. One could just as easily talk about the desire of the university and the desire of the panel participant. [laughter] Marianne Weems: Your turn. Aimee Rankin: My turn? Marianne Weems: Yeah Aimee Rankin: Um, I need to make a kidney infection break.
  • Marianne Weems: Okay. Aimee's going to go to the bathroom. I'll tell you about her [laughter, sighing] Uh, she currently has a show up at Postmasters that you should all go see til April 5th. And she's shown at the Whitney, the New Museum, Artists Space, and the Appalachian Center for Crafts among other places. She has two articles coming up right now. One is an interview with Ross Bleckner in in the spring issue of BOMB, and the other is an article on the Difference show in the current issue of Screen among a lot of other publications. Is it really hot in here? [murmuring] No? Maybe we should open a window. [unclear] Would you mind opening the window a little? Speaker 1: We do have one open a little bit but the problem is that they’re a little or a lot of people in here are sick.[unclear] Marianne Weems: Okay Multiple people: What? Are you sick? Yeah. [laughter] Ta-da! [Audience an murmuring]
  • Aimee Rankin: I'm going to just show some slides for starters. Um, I need to say, I feel like shit, speaking of shit. [laughter] So I'm not my usual outgoing self that's why. I, I brought a bunch of slides from different periods of time starting in 1982. Um, this is one of the first. This series was called Fast Nations. It was a series of color photographs that um, were sort of a result of a lot of reading I was doing of feminist theories basically derived from psychoanalysis. [Speaking to AV staff] Can you focus it? I think I should just do it.
  • A lot of things we're ---talking about issues of spectatorship primarily in terms of male spectator. Um, Laura Mulvey wrote an article called Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema where she analyzed the Hollywood film in terms of uh, Lacanian psychoanalysis and talked about fetishism and voyarism, excetera. That piece was really taken by a bunch of feminists to basically argue that spectatorships itself was sort of a male phenomenon. Uh, that is was about distance and mastery and so on. And there was a real problem with women's work dealing with images of women for a long time in the mid-late 70's. What I wanted the series to do was really deal with very fetishitistic images of women from Hollywood films but images that I also thought had a tremendous appeal to women. And one of the things about images of women is that I think the most sensual images, are those found in magazines and films and so on, that are directed primarily at female audience. I mean, you just think of fashion photography for example. In Vogue or any of the other women's magazines. It's extremely erotica. And it kind of flies in the face of those arguments about spectatorship. Also, I think there was a kind of misreading of Lacan as well, because, in Lacanian theory, especially the theory of the mirror phase, it's the gaze of the mother that really sets up the circuit of specularity in a way that I think is being overlooked. So, when I was dealing with the issue of my pleasure and the image as a woman, I was being sort of rueful. I wanted to make something that sort of looked like debri left over after a party. And um, we incorporate these images in here. So this work was I think the first step I did that really led to where I was going to do later, which was boxes. It's about arranging objects and images.
  • The next stuff I did was a series of work called Renaissance Windows. I had been doing a lot of reading about the history of science and I was really interested in the Renaissance as this kind of, you know, founding moment of Humanism that kept cropping up again and again in theories. So, this work just basically was about, a kind of, relation to nature and to woman as being very much linked with nature in a metaphoric way. So it's using a lot of images of women in these paintings. [unclear] It's really strange to look at my work like this in slides because actually, against the back wall of this box there's a photograph and then it's meant to be contrasted with the objects inside. Well, that all gets really flattened out in the slide, so. For those of you who have seen the work, you have a sense of what it should be like. For other people, all I can say is that my show is still up, the chance to go see some of the actual stuff.
  • This is the way all of the boxes are constructed. [unclear] I was thinking there's and engraving by [unclear] where, um, there's a woman laying on her back and then this grid frame in the middle of the image. And then, the other side of the grid there's a man who's got this very phallic looking thing up to his eye and he's reproducing the woman's pose in a piece of paper that's gridded in the same ways the gridded screen is that's in front of her body. So I was thinking of that. That way of organizing images working with [unclear] boxes.
  • I tried to go through all my slides to try to get some things that would look good in slide form. This is from the Space op-ed that I did. After dealing with the past I sort of wanted to play around with the future. This was based on Kabuki theater and science fiction novels. Sort of a theatrical thing, sort of a disaster. But I ended up doing a 3D slideshow which is why there is two images [unclear]. But it was basically a group of women wearing these strange outfits and playing out this whole scenario of violence and desire. We just sort of, ad libbed the performance and ended up sort of, wrestling and pawing each other in various ways. [laughter] It was quite fun to do. [laughter] Never made very much out of it, but, we all had a lot of fun.
  • But I've been very interested in theater all along and my work has a real theatrical element to it. This was my only attempt at working human scale. This is the first box of my latest group of work which is been a series of bedrooms. I had one series called the Theater of Love which is based on, kind of 19th century sense of excess and opera. This one plays Tristan und Isolde by Wagner [unclear]. They're big boxes and you look in and turn them on and the music plays and it has smells. They were meant for two people to look in at once. This is a Betrayal box that plays Samson and Delilah. [laughter] A few of you have seen these in person [unclear]. For the rest of you, it's just ----- [unclear]. This is Bliss that plays Madame Butterfly. Um, this is from a series I did, an installation that I did in a museum window. It was on natural history and I was really interested once again in the representation of nature. This did get smashed by a brick that someone threw--[unclear].
  • These are from my new series called Ecstasy which is up now. There's really no way to photograph Ecstacy because you look through two little tiny peepholes in the front and there's a lot of things in mirrors and on the periphery that you can't see. And also on the roof, on the ceiling of the box which hangs down which totally got lost. This is through the top of the box and there's a spinning mirror ball that usually would hang from the ceiling, look in. So, uh, I was really interested in pushing visual excess as far as I could with these bedrooms. And they have different motion topics, like, this is Bliss again. And that waterfall really works. It's one of those, like, Chinatown illusionistic things where the water looks like it's flowing. Here's Sex. Those dicks spin around them old waters [laughter]. Fury, which is real dynamite. I was trying to use images from our art history -- [unclear] sort of seemed very obsessed with them. This is Suffocation. This is the one about a kind of placental variety of love that I always associate with, kind of, closest to the maternal body. The images [Io by Greggio ] which is a woman being embraced by a cloud. In one of the mirrors there's a renaissance anatomy drawing which is a woman's belly cut open. They used to do really strange engravings from their anatomical dissections. Her belly is cut open and flaps of skin that are pulled away to look like a flower. With the fetus at the center of the flower. There's a little stem drawn in between the legs. Which makes the whole thing look very striking. Speaker 1: What is the title in relation to the imagery [unclear]. Aimee Rankin: For this particular piece? Speaker 1: Yeah
  • Aimee Rankin: Well for me, um, there's something in terms of desire about that kind of closeness to the mother's body which would be a kind of unity with the other, that is otherwise impossible. It's the only time that we are functionally part of this other person that we love. But at the same time it can be very terrifying because it's something that the child is trying to constitute themselves as subjects struggling to break away. So I wanted this piece to be about that tension of the closeness be, uh, a kind of an ambivilance for that closeness. About it being something that one would desire yet at the same time would also sort of be terrifying. Because it's too close. This one has a lot of [unclear], the bed is roses. There's a lot of sugar roses which are like wedding cakes. There's plastic chocolates on the floor. A lot of images of [unclear]. Sweet things. There's a lot of plastic babies hanging from the ceiling. Inside is lace. Speaker 1: How big are the boxes?
  • Aimee Rankin: They're two foot cubes. They all play music actually, I forgot to tell you that. This one plays You Can Never Go Home Again by the Shangri-Las [laughter] which was a great song. This woman swimming out from her mother. [laughter] She said she met this boy so she ran away from home and she says " You know summin? I forgot that boy right away, instead I remember being tucked in bed and hearing my Mamma say" and then they sing this little lullaby [laughter] Hush little baby don't you cry, Mama won't go away. And then she goes "Mama" it really gives me chills [laughter]. This one plays a W.A.S.P song. I don't know if you guys remember W.A.S.P is the heavy metal group that got in trouble with the mothers against rock and roll profanity. They had a cover that said, um, F, two stars, K like a beast with a guy with a chainsaw coming out of his zipper. But anyway, this is really good. It's a song called Sleeping in the Fire by them. They were the few heavy metal bands that actually has more than three lyrics per song. [laughter] I really wanted heavy metal for this, you know. But I had a hard time finding, I mean I buy these heavy metal records that had great titles but they'd just be screaming the same three words over and over. [laughter] In the mirrors, you can sort of see the mirrors there. There are all these images from Fangoria magazine of all these special effects, things with heads exploding and stuff.
  • This one plays Jungle Love by Morris Day and The Time. That song "Oh we oh we oh" (singing Morris Day and The Time). [laughter] "You want to make love or what" (quoting Morris Day and The Time). [laughter] Uh, this one plays I'm Falling by Roy Orbison. [laughter] The rest of them, god, there's a whole list. Let's see. There's Attraction. Uh, see, it's not all photographed very well. Attraction, has a bed is a bottomless pit and um, it plays a Shriekback song called, what is it----This Big Hush. It's sorta like the space book of the butterflies and space book was going on a little extensive. [unclear]. There was [unclear], plays a David Bowie song, it's a lot of range of music and emotions. But I really, I think it's really ridiculous to sort of talk about things that you can't see. And this work really, because it's got music, and got all this stuff, I just get all frustrated when I show slides of it. I've actually um, said that there's no photos available as stuff so this is kind of cheating [laughs]. But um, I don't know, hopefully it looks interesting enough [laughs] that you want to go see the real thing. Marianne Weems: Hopefully in the discussion we can just talk about some more general issues. Speaker 2: Do you want to do the thing? [chatter]
  • Marianne Weems: Okay, Leslie's gonna show her film, Adynata and then we'll open it up for general discussion. And I'm going to tell you about Leslie if I can see. Um, I did not write this bio. Originally a painter, Leslie Thornton began making films in '74 and has since produced eleven works in film and video including the award winning Adynata, Jennifer, Where are You?, and X-TRACTS. She's shown extensively in the United States and Europe. In the Berlin, Mannheim, London and Rotterdam film festivals and at the Pacific Film Archive, the Millenium, Walker Arts Center and Collective, the [unclear] Callwalls and [unclear]. Her fictional writing’s also been published in Top Story, Subjects/Objects , and in Unsound. [audio recording plays the sound of an airplane engine and other noises]
  • Marianne Weems: So, um, we can start with a question. Or we can start with--something we have to say. Does anyone have any initial comments? Speaker 3: Well I'm interested in what you said earlier about the strategy of excess. And comparing Aimee's work and Leslie's work [unclear] some of the subjects and images are the same. And I was wondering just how that strategy plays out in terms of your art, Aimee, being some sculptural [unclear] and Leslie's work being temporal [unclear]. Because it seems like the film works by taking the object of fetishism allover and working backwards in a kind of reversal of knowledge of women. In the sense that looking at that photograph of that Chinese couple, we're not seeing the other so much as we're seeing through the mind of Victorian lens. So that there's this fundamental reversal of knowledge about the other. And when we watch the excess, what we're watching is our own constructions.
  • Aimee Rankin: Mmmhmm [agreement] Speaker 3: And what the film, the advantage of the film is that, working out across time, you can take that strategy of excess and work it into a kind of convulsion. So ultimately where you say "Well where, where is this kind of voyeurism and fetishism lead the figure of woman to death. It leads to... Aimee Rankin:: Right Speaker 3: ....this terrible contradiction where pleasure and pain are the same thing. Where if you enjoy a movie, you see a heroine killed. Or, where if you sentimentalize the orient, it's at the same time sentimentalizing bound feet. Or you're basically celebrating the confinement of women. And with Aimee's boxes, and with all of these objects in one place, there is objects for the viewer but in a sense they don't work out, they don't have that strategy where time works out, where the images, where the objects are meeting. And I was wondering, at what point in your exhibition, in your mind, do you imagine the spectator figuring out what your strategy is? Figuring out whether it's critical or not? Aimee Rankin:: Hmmmm. Speaker 3: You know?
  • Aimee Rankin: Well, I think a lot of the elements you said are in Leslie's work about, um, the kind of fascination and repulsion of it and also the relation to pleasure and death are in my work, too. I mean I think the fixity of the work can be even more excruciating in a way. And In fact.... Speaker 3: Or more pleasurable. Aimee Rankin: It depends. Something is pleasurable for a second might be excruciating after while.[laughter] But it's not working in time, this is the first exhibition I've done that actually does play on the difference really between the pieces so that there is a kind of sketchy temporal dimension where you jack in from piece to piece. And that kind of schism between the boxes, I think is, an even sort of more abrupt thing than a film edit. You know, as far as being a kind of a cut. On the other hand, I mean, I thought a lot about about why I don't work in time. Cause I think work like Leslie's is among the most successful stuff I've seen in any medium. And I really think a lot of things that can be done in time are more subtle and more complex. But there's something about the physical presence of things that's really important to me. Anytime you're dealing with a time-based medium like video or film, you dealing with the photographic system of representation that tends to flatten and homogenize everything in front of the lens to a certain extent.
  • One of the things I discovered when I was doing color photography was that it was very difficult for me to differentiate between different types of things because the camera in the photographic emulsion would tend to like, render everything in this sort of homogeneous flatness. And to me there was something very disturbingly fetishistic about that. About that way in which the apparatus of the camera itself, would take away any differentiation or any distinction between lots of different types of things just by a material quality. So the idea that I can have a lot of different types of things in the work and if they, they strike a different emotional or perceptual note because of their physical, material qualities is really important to me. And I think that a lot of stuff I've been talking about, like at the [Dia], thing I don't know if you heard it, about the reel. I mean there's something about a kind of last gasp of physicality that I think has a lot of very powerful emotional resonance in it. When you're confronted with an actual thing. Whereas these images the kind of passed before mine. We're so, we're so used to watching television or seeing movies in a certain way, that we kind of plug into a certain watching mode. That I think, I think it's different when you're actually, you know, confronted by an object, potentially.
  • Leslie Thornton: I think there may be one very simple difference in what you do to what I do. Uh, or the way it reads. And that is, uh, I feel that it in your boxes, while there may be a critical position articulated, there's also just, I just see something that was enjoyable coming about just as an object. I see.. Aimee Rankin: I see that in your film, too. [laughing] Leslie Thornton: Oh, well see, okay. What I was going to say was.... Speaker 4: You both know what a pain in the ass it is
  • Leslie Thornton: I think that you know, the intangibility of film makes it something that you can't have that same.... I mean, you don't imagine the maker quite as much. You don't imagine someone sort of thinking about these things and putting them in place for you. It's a more elusive one. So I think there's that difference. That the object is something that makes me feel closer to you, to a body than the film does. And two, I, we've talked about this before. I have very different motivations and desires in producing my work and this piece in particular. Which I think are much more negative than yours. And it was interesting for me to see your stills and think about the fact that my film was going to show soon. And I even thought, "Oh no, the lushness of these is going to wipe out a Adynata altogether'.
  • Aimee Rankin: [laughing] I don't think so. Cause my work doesn't do that in the photo. Leslie Thornton: But--yeah.. Aimee Rankin: It's one of the reasons I hate showing photos cause the presence, the physicality of it is so important. Maybe they can't be photographed. Leslie Thornton: Yeah, well there's something else... I wanted to say about that. But, um, you know there's nothing but horror of the image. For me in that film and that's all I meant to point to. I mean, there's certainly an element of seduction, but it's meant as a sort of painful bound position. Aimee Rankin: But, you really think this? Leslie Thornton: Yes. [other voices] But it's something so beautiful, it's beautiful. It's beautiful to the point of being painful but...
  • Speaker 3: No. And it's reference to cinema and the general way you need cinema, a whole photo, and the content of that reading in reference to Hollywood is very frightening. To me, it points exactly to what narrative and cinema have to do with women. And that's where I see the main difference. Leslie Thornton: Yeah, I made it to, it's meant as a hollow vision. And that's where the horror is. It's all surface. Aimee Rankin: But that's my stuff too, it's meant as a hollow thing. Leslie Thornton: But you have a different relationship. Aimee Rankin: No but it's all about loss. I mean, it's not a celebration of beauty as much as it's about that standing in for something else that's totally impossible. Leslie Thornton: Well, there are differences, I think. Aimee Rankin: Yeah.
  • Speaker 4: What's the point for you as an artist of putting an exhibition through, or making, or illustrating, or demonstrating a hollow vision? Leslie Thornton: Oh. Speaker 4: And --I mean, because when you do that it seems that you at the same time are endorsing the use of the imagery as it traditionally, you know. I mean, I didn't really feel that in your film. But you said that so I'm asking you. Leslie Thornton: Well, yeah. We always trap ourselves in language. No, I just-- I just. The film means to finally be mute and still. And, you know, it grew up around one image which is a still photograph. And a sort of series of connections that one might read in that. And, uh, I just -- in a very simple way, it was just about the kind of spectacle we're guilty of savoring and participating in. That's .... Speaker 4: Where does it become critical in the film for you? Leslie Thornton: ....false. Uh huh. Speaker 4: That differentiation between the endorsement and the showing of vision and the point of excruciating pain of no, this is not [unclear]
  • Leslie Thornton: Well for one thing it definitely doesn't announce itself, doesn't tell you when you should start feeling good or bad..... Speaker 4: But for you as the maker… Leslie Thornton: Umm, right. It's always, the entire film takes a position that's not something that develops from the outset. It's a surface. Um, that doesn't open up. And you know, every moment when it seems that it might, it just sorta sits down looks the other direction, or turns away. So, it's absolute in that way. It's not, It was meant to be very uncomfortable. It wasn't meant to make you feel good or teach you anything. Aimee Rankin: I found it incredibly pleasurable. [laughing] Speaker 3: It seems to me to ask the question of who produces these images and in what cultural context are these images produced. And if that fundamental question is asked, especially that woman seems to stare at you, stare back at you. Instead of being there for you to look at, she's looking back. She's not accepting that, your gaze.
  • Leslie Thornton: I don't see the work so much as being about a kind of hollowness in vision as it is about hollowness of representation. Aimee Rankin: Yeah, okay. Leslie Thornton: That's a whole different ball game Aimee Rankin: Yeah, I don't mean hollowness of vision. Leslie Thornton: Yeah. Aimee Rankin:: I think my work has a lot of those elements, too, as does Andrea's about the kind of, you know, ambivalent relation woman have placed in certain cultural discourses. Which we are by definition excluded from in certain ways. In certain relations of power in our own pleasure.
  • I mean, I think all of us have that ambivalence. But that doesn't mean that we don't also take pleasure in participating in certain ways. In certain kind of underhanded ways, maybe. Within these systems. And maybe ways that we're trying to kind of break down that kind of, the voice of kind of, supposed universality. We're trying to make that specific in a certain way.
  • Leslie Thornton: Well, yeah. I should tell you one thing about Adynata, the title is significant, although it's not defined and in the film. And the title is just a term that I found in the dictionary of rhetorical terms. Um, the definition was a stringing together of impossibilities, sometimes a confession that words fail us. Which is very much, you know, what the film was trying to be about. On one level, I was just interested in seeing how we could sort of, talk about something using that in a broad sense. That we couldn't really speak, that we couldn't really talk about. And so, you know, the film certainly doesn't fall down finally on the side of nonsense, it seems to be making the effort. But I'm not sure what it says and I don't know that it's something you can recuperate in language.
  • Speaker 5: Yeah, I felt really strongly watching the film that it broke up the way you're supposed to watch. Leslie Thornton: Right Speaker 5: I mean, it was constantly splicing that [inaudible]. [Inaudible] strength of its presentation [unclear]. Aimee Rankin: I was wondering about [laughter] [inaudible]. Leslie Thornton: Sorry. Speaker 5: I was just wondering about the use of music. Like Aimee uses more pop songs and you use like, whole variety. And I was wondering the relationship of music to words, like couldn't you almost....you said the film is mute, but isn't putting a soundtrack in the background some sort of .... mirror language [unclear] that I'm hearing [unclear]
  • Leslie Thornton: Isn't it what? Speaker 5: Like, isn't it sort of using language? Leslie Thornton: But if it's using language, what is it doing with it? I mean, what is it. I don't see this kind of crazy concatenation of the soundtrack... Speaker 5: Yeah, I was just trying... Leslie Thornton:.... solidifies anymore than the image. And then the relationship between the two as well is, very sort of, erratic. Speaker 5: Yeah Leslie Thornton: There are moments that I think you probably feel that you, that you and everybody probably finds a way of sort of, pulling together somehow. But, just the piling up of sources of language, I think things start kind of crossing each other out. Or that it doesn't add up to something finally. Leslie Thornton: Yes?
  • Speaker 6: I actually would like to return to the question of endorsement which I think is a really interesting one. Probably because it's one that is so often directed to cinemas [unclear] beginning, the intangibility of such an artifact. And well, the attribution of a, an endorsement seems to reconstruct an authoritative position for the film which is [unclear]. And it's, [unclear] in a very simple way, what kind of artifacts, uh, the film can be. It's certainly not solely the result of a certain kind of intentionality on the part of, often the part of the filmmaker. Uh, it's equally something caught in a language or else suspended in a kind of cultural context or perhaps in a crossroads of context. And that very much seems to be the case with this film. And in fact, one woman said it seems to operate with regard to something else that you said that I think relates to the discussion of endorsement. And it's the question of horror, and kind, of speculative horror. Because it certainly is a work which transgresses, uses, appropriates, transgresses a lot of the almost subliminal codes you find in Hollywood cinema. A certain tone of music will, sort of clue you in the actions going [unclear] and so on. But for any kind of transgression, it also has to be a kind of iteration, a kind of repetition that both transgress but preserves a kind of trace of what it transgresses. Leslie Thornton: Mhmmm
  • Speaker 6: So this becomes this sort of Exquisite Corpse, almost kind of a disarticulation, fragmentation, resewing together a body. A kind of Frankenstein as a word. In fact there’s a clue to that because residing in the background as a kind of subtext in amongst all the other trails and stone is actually a section of the subject of the Bride of Frankenstein the most appropriate ..... Leslie Thornton: Oh yeah right that was real important ...yeah. Frankenstein is a good model for this.
  • Speaker 3: Yeah I think that what you said you said about music is very important because in cinema music always comes in to what you're supposed to think about and how you're supposed to experience the film. Leslie Thornton: Yeah. Speaker 3: And, the music here is just always wrong. Leslie Thornton: Yeah. Speaker 3: It always feels like a contradiction. So that you're unable to enter into that spectacle in a comfortable sort of way. But it aways..... Leslie Thornton: But it's not. Yeah. It does but it's not entirely contradictory which what is also adventurous. Like for instance, one piece of music that's prominent is the tango. And the tango is, like you know, a forbidden dance cuz it's a sexual dance. So just, so there's sort of, there are tones to the pieces that are important. I mean, it's... like maybe when you were referring to trace. So it's not entirely and negation because there's still some sort of trace that hangs there...
  • Speaker 6: No, in fact, it's the opposite. It's a trace but you know, again another word that came up in the beginning of this is excess and if you look at music and how it operates. And I think it's [Adorna] who makes mention of this. It, a sound track in a film really is a machine in a sense. It, on the one hand mimics a certain oral hearing function. But it does so unlike the human body, It never produces that. But unlike the human body it can't direct or even give any substantial clue to the direction of attention. So that, for example, it's there and if in a noisy room lets say you have an air conditioner or projector or something going on, you can easily block that out. That can escape the frame of your attention. In a film soundtrack, it's all there. And in fact you compound the problem--something accumulates. The layers and layers, and layers of [unclear] that happen here. So it's like turning the machine inside out and sort of stranding the spectator. Leaving the spectator in this kind of confrontation. So they kind of [unclear] that, too. Speaker 6: Actually, one other small note. Uh, just sort of peaked by Adorna and it has to do with another thing that you mentioned and this is Aimee's work. And that's uh, and also Andrea's in the talk [unclear]. I think it was Adorna who made the connection, and logically between the words "museum' and mausoleum" and played out the connotations.
  • Leslie Thornton: Well the issue of excess I mean, Linda's question brought up a confusion that a lot of people have had in dealing with all of our work which is um, the issue of criticality. Now, a lot of recent work that's claimed to reserve for itself a critical position has done so by means of a kind of a distanciation and refusal of a lot of the more seductive aspects of existing forms of representation in art that was done by um... so let's say that, like you know, the differences show for example, not using painting or sculpture but mostly these black and white photographs. And the production quality of the photographs being very sort of rude, and the framing being very simple. And you know, just sort of refusing to make the image seductive in a way that other types of art going on at the time had done.
  • Or in film, you know, to kind of really draw attention to the production of the film, and you know, refuse to compose shots in a required compositional harmonious way and so on. And, I think there's something else going on in all of our work which is more about a kind of immersion in what we're dealing with in a way that really focuses on and ambivalence rather than a refusal. I mean, just because that strategy, I don't think was that successful. I think it had a lot of um, it was an attempt to kind of put oneself outside of something but it relied on a position of mastery in a certain way I think to get that across.
  • Speaker 3: It also doesn't do away with the question of why are certain emotions produced and to what end? You know. Which, for example, [unclear] simplicity desires produce in us so that we will buy things. Leslie Thornton: Right. Speaker 3: So it's not a question of whether the art object solicits that or not, it's a question of where are we in the society or this culture taken when we experience those things. Leslie Thornton: Exactly. So I think all of us are in some way foregrounding our own implication in that was fascinates us which also happens to perhaps suppress us. And I think that's that's and important step in the attempt to really understand you know representational strategies that we're dealing with here. Speaker 4: Can you give and example of a piece of art or a film or a method that um, that is an example of that kind of distanciations?
  • Leslie Thornton: Well I think just about everything in a Different show. Did you see that show? Did you see the Different show at the New Museum? Speaker 4: No Leslie Thornton: Well there's one person who's work always bugs me and that's this guy Victor Bergan, do you know his work? [laughing] Speaker 4: No Leslie: [laughing] Okay. um, so [laughing] There's just a certain use of theory in a lot of work that would want to be sort of politically correct which is just a way of uh, it's almost sort of smug. Speaker 4: Uh huh
  • Leslie Thornton: It doesn't really confess its own stake in either the discourse of knowledge which it's appropriating, or you know the fetishistic images that it's presenting albeit, you know, with white gloves. Like this, you know? There's this certain [laughs] sense of not wanting to soil oneself with anything that might potentially cause some kind of more suspect forms of pleasure. Aimee Rankin: And it would reveal your own identification [unclear]. Leslie: And your own implication in the way which you yourself are structured in that scenario. I mean, that kind of the kind of distanciation in attempt to posit some kind of intellectual mastery of issues like seduction and desire, which is usually what this word is dealing with. That it doesn't really end up being about what it says it's about. Speaker 6: I was wondering, you were describing the different strategies which you're taking, differentiating yourself from another group of people in the attempt to...and you said "understand' and what exactly? Understand the systems of representation in which we operate? Leslie: Yeah
  • Speaker 6: And that, that just makes me wonder. I wonder as you, as someone creating things [often with other people] and envision what you're up to. To what degree do you try and identify a goal such as understanding systems of representation? How specific does that idea get in your head? Is there a particular goal as you're making these things or is that a kind of position of mastery which one refrains from or is there any tension involved there? In your position as someone making things? Is that something you want to solidify and say “well there’s is a goal here which I’m applying strategy to?"
  • Leslie Thornton: Now that's a good question and I have to admit, and what could be very politically suspect, that I like ideas because they're fun and I like making things because it's fun. And that's like primarily, that's the bottom line. And if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it. Now what I'm enjoying is another issue. Often that might be something that's a little more about, kind of striking out against certain representational structures which I find oppressive for one thing. Just the issue of women making things it's already already culturally seen as somehow a problem because the art world is very very much male-dominated as is, not the independent film world, but at least the commercial film world.
  • So it's an issue for us as women to be attempting to deal with systems of representation that may have historically been about a kind of exclusion of our voice. I want to understand as much my own relation to these things, to my own pleasure with images, my own pleasure with ideas. More than I want to impose upon my audience that kind of, you know, "this is the right way" or something. But the same time I believe very strongly in certain things I'm doing and one of those things is that just the whole structure of representation does seem to be based on this sort of dichotomy of, you know, sort of power relation that is patriarchal in language, in image, in whatever.
  • And I think that, I sort of can't help but feel ambivalent about that. And I can't help but show that in my work. Because certain positions of speaker, of spectator, always feel a little bit, you know, uncomfortable when I occupy them. Cause they don't quite fit me, you know, they're made for someone else perhaps. Speaker 6: But that's part of the question comes out of what I think Andrea was saying earlier in that it makes one ask questions about any form for commentary. What is what is the objective of such commentary? And it just seems like an ambivalent position even to be up there.
  • Leslie Thornton: Yeah. Speaker 6: The same way kind of recapitulates this ambivalence which your work [unclear] Leslie Thornton: It's true Like Andrea's piece which was about that ambivalence. It was about that, you know, how she was positioning herself as someone who was doing a panel paper and kind of taking a more or less fictional voice. Assuming it, in a way that was ambivalent. Because she was saying things that she might perhaps want to say but not saying them in her own words perhaps. And so on. I think that's one attempt. I haven't been as creative about figuring out how to deal with it. [laughing]
  • Aimee Rankin: I think there's, uh, well you've used the term ambivalence notes the, that there might be an interest here in working outside of what we recognize as power situations. And then a real problem that I have with a lot of what goes on in the art world today and also in a very personal way in relation to work, my own work, is that you know if you're trying to work outside of a power structure and then you sit here like this as the voice of authority you get stuck into you know which is inescapable, you know as soon as I sit here that's what I am. That inadvertently here you get stuck into, you know, a power situation again and it's something I try to fight but I even find that the're people sort of claiming an outside. And they're claiming it's so loud that you can't help it say "hey you're grabbing territory here and you're you know you're trying to gain power by claiming a rejection of it". So there's, I think in general things much of a mess in the art world right now around the relation between theory and practice. And you know, things are kind seizing up.
  • Speaker 6: And in mind the power that commentary has. I mean .... Speaker 7: yeah Speaker 6: ...this sort of forum becomes then becomes a position of authority Speaker 7: right Speaker 6: : I just, I mean it's interesting [unclear] there's a piece in the midst of it, because it seems like you incorporate that into your very presence here. And I wonder does everyone have to think about doing that and what can you do when you decide to sit in a room like this if that issue is sort of present for you know --you can't, sort of cut off this forum as a place where that's not present. I mean, that strategy is interesting when, where does that leave you. I mean, can you make a comment now that's outside of your persona? Andrea Fraser: Which persona? [laughter] Speaker 7: Oooh, [schitzo]
  • Andrea Fraser: Yeah, I mean. Well it's a question of trying to make a statement. With which one doesn't identify. I mean because the talk, for example, I mean I was very interested in making certain kinds of statements. Documentary and presenting information, is documentary information. But it was information that have no place in that context. And so, I mean I think that's maybe that's, I mean, I can't do that right now. I mean I can't do that answering a question. Maybe it's possible to do that. But, um-- so I don't think it necessarily makes commentary and speech impossible. I mean, what I'm more interested in are the position one takes up. I mean, what position one takes up and making, presenting commentary. And because it takes up a place in relation to an object, in relation to, you know what is said before and afterwards. The function of a, statement is determined by context and within a syntax. And so I think that ......well, yeah. I mean, I think that it is possible to sort of, say something without saying it. Leslie Thornton: He's right though, this whole setup is pretty fucked [unclear] [laughter]. I mean..
  • Speaker 6; no, I just... Andrea Fraser: Well, I mean this, when in preparing this panel there have these whole series of panels. Our panels downtown sponsored by the [Dia] Foundation. Leslie Thornton: That's what I was just going to say Andrea Fraser: And I mean, my experience on these panels was one of nausea [laughing] Leslie Thornton: Of what? Nausea? [laughing] Ditto. Andrea Fraser: And sort of hysterical conversion symptoms [laughing]. But, I mean one of the things that would happen on the panel, there would be, on one particular panel. There was a statement... [Cuts off]