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Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Exhibition view. Credits : Aurélien Mole.

Exhibition review

Post-Performance video, Prospective 1: Los Angeles

Coleman Collins, Rodney McMillian, Nathaniel Mellors et Anna Wittenberg.

Curated by Marie de Brugerolle

Carré d’Art, Musée d’art contemporain, Nîmes

Post-Performance video, Prospective 1: Los Angeles

How can we review the exhibition Post-performance video, prospective 1: Los Angeles without proceeding to a dissection of its title? Post-performance is a concept developed over the last ten years by the exhibition curator Marie de Brugerolle (1), seeking neither an end nor an aftermath of performance but rather the way what it affects artistic forms and practices. Since the 1970s, performance as an artistic field has been absorbed, and since then  performativity has infiltrated the layers of society: culture, work, economy, and experience, for which the body continues to be the “main material “. In the exhibition, performance is encountered not as a medium but rather as attitudes through the practices of four artists: Coleman Collins, Nathaniel Mellors, Rodney Mcmillian and Anna Wittenberg, whose starting point (here) will be video incorporated into installation (2) involving objects (drawing and sculpture) with a scenic or sculptural dimension. The object assumes an important role, based on its temporality, as a script when it anticipates filmic formes or as a post-performance sculpture when it transits from the screen to the exhibition space toward a more museal appoach. Each artist was trained or works in Los Angeles and suggests that following prospective 1, there will be further exhibitions.

 

The choice of Los Angeles for the (maybe) first occurence is nevertheless worth a brief considering. If the matter is not about identifying an art scene in the strict sense of the word, Los Angeles has witness a number of artist who have had and still have an important impact on performance and video since the 1970s, such as Matt Mullican, Jack Goldstein, Wolfgang Stoerchle (3), Paul Mccarty, Guy de Cointet or Ericka Beckman, mainly at Cal Arts which was founder in 1961 by Walt Disney to train animtors for the studio.  Ultimately, Walt Disney still has an impact on the Californian city where artists continue to be trained in drawing for the animation studios, some of whom reverse their education in favour of a critical look at the Disneyfication of forms.

 

The post-performance related to Los Angeles, if it is not stated in the exhibition, seems to me to be closely linked to the concept of postmodernism often used to qualify the model of the city embodied by Los Angeles, fragmented in spaces (linked to privatization) and different social classes. The architectural profusion without real connection makes it the urban archetype of the 21st century (4), which has become such a hackneyed image in movies. The city obvisouly symbolises the image industry, subterfuge through the ubiquity of sets and film studios. And it is from its presence as a open air set that Los Angeles stages the very performativity of the image. The infinite reenactement of the miracle.

I am in the first room, Marie de Brugerolle calls me to give me some keys and tell me that I am standing in the green room (5), the first space that introduce us to what is to come, a teaser of what awaits us. Anna Wittenberg’s drawings seem to come out of fairy tales or an alternative Disney world that went wrong, where the images are creaky, grotesque and sexual. Some are programmatic and anticipate a performative object, such as Concrete Foot (2020)  a square foot with a camera embedded in it. They stand alongside The 7 Ages of Britain Teaser (2009), a video by Nathaniel Mellors that comes with a  moulded mask. In the video, a British TV anchor picks up the mask of his own face – which in the meantime has landed on the exhibition wall – that has been thrown at him and presents the artist’s own practice as a critique of the role of television on society. The meta-narrative effect is similar to that of talk shows, commenting on what has happened on the same media a few hours before. The room ends up with a wall painted green, similar to the backgrounds used in cinema and television, on which Coleman Collins’ screen print Ensemble (2020), divided into four squares, represents the first occurrence of mass-produced angel figurines whose colours have been previously separated by an algorithm.

The sound layers that overlap across the open plan of the exhibition take us away from the opening credits to Rodney Mcmillian’s video that follows the first room. In Neshoba County Fair (2012), a puppet re-enacts the archive of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign speech in Neshoba (6), the linguistic elements reverberate violently as they reiterate the segregationist vocabulary and the entire belief system that derives from it, specific to the future president’s southern strategy(7). While political discourse is always performed, when it is reenacted (litteraly put back into action) it is the inherent violence of the American Dream that is expressed through American history and politics. The ventriloquism of words is followed by stuffed animals ( like a dinosaur or a cowboy) and breaks the rhythm to give way to a religious song, Come to my heart lord Jesus, performed by Erykah Badu. Here, political and religious ideologies are intertwoven, manipulated like threads articulating puppets. The audience for the speech is behind our back, a series of caricatured pencil portraits by Horace Taylor, a press illustrator in the 1940s, purchased by the artist. Blistered, with prices marked and historical information visible, they are part of a gesture of recirculation and exponential increase in value (8). Are they the audience of the puppet comedy, the Reagan electors? By putting them in relation with the video, the social body is back on stage (re-staged) in a device that invites us to position ourselves physically in the space

The exhibition gradually fragments into several paths, but each time we are mobilised by what is happening outside the frame of the image. The focus is on the “projective illusion” reflected in the relationship of the moving image to a space, and the presence of objects that creates a system close to a set. In the four occurences following each artist of the exhibition, the film is performed by the body present in the image and our own summoned into a liminal space, neither in a black box that isolates us from the environment, nor in a white cube that opens onto the museum space. The exhibition requires us to position ourselves in relation to the filmic image. In Anna Wittenberg’s device, it becomes frontal. What if our body becomes a projection surface (9), the equivalent of the fourth wall?

In Squarefoot (2020), Anna Wittenberg diffracts the image into three floor-skimming projections. We first have to walk around a character sitting on a chair, The Drunk (2019), an inanimate wooden jumping jack who in the fiction is manipulated by two people dressed in black (10) while he is tipsy leaning against the bar. The light of the projector has supplanted the sun. The imagery of the western with is alcoholics and loners heroes is followed by a split screen image that goes through the Californian desert at night, a stadium, a bar, or even animals in  alternating image regimes from GoPro to high speed quality. But like the sun, the heroes have been dethroned by animals (a pig and a rooster) captured in close-ups, each have a great screen presence, overflowing the frame and thus appearing heroic. Anna Wittenberg’s images slide down the walls, and we end up returning to the diffracted narrative, which wraps us up in its spatial setting. On the sides, we recognise the square shoes, Concrete Foot (2020) that have acquired volume since the first drawing. They enclose the shooting device, a GoPro, and are displayed on a base in which the projection system is embedded. They are filmic tools, props and sculptures all at once, swapping roles according to their temporality of perception.

Nathaniel Mellors creates operative sculptures (11) that are rooted in the moving image and the exhibition space using the figure of Neandertal man. The two sculptures Neanderthal Restyle (2016) and Reliquary Reliquary (Degenerated Cycle) (2016) are examples of this. Two resin busts painted with agglomerated materials or coloured plastic straws placed on pedestals facing the projection seem to be part of a set. Here the characters have crossed the film, museified in the manner of classical statuary. They might as well have come out of the museum of special effects, if such a museum exists, or perhaps more specifically to Los Angeles, from the museum of Jurassic technologies which displays objects and relics that seem to have been forgotten by natural history museums and yet are important. The question is whether what we are looking at is real and completely fake. Real (hi)stories and fictions merge and ask about what is an historical museum afterall. In  Nathaniel Mellors’ feature film Ourhouse-1 (Time) (2016) the linearity of history is disrupted and this time the question is what makes us (and objects) more human? The present becomes eternal (12), time is reversible. In this video cycle, which began almost a decade ago, we follow a family – most of whose characters are played by actors from British TV series or films – who travel through time using an object rather than a machine, a toilet seat powered by faecal matter. Each journey causes cosmic bugs that are not without effet. The Neanderthal characters meet those of the present and seem to have come straight out of  TV films or a Monthy Python with their caricatured and humorous features. References to popular culture (television) and possible speculations in the folds of history dissolve the single narrative and give way to a metahistory close to contemporary scientific discourse (13). But here, in meta-history communication is no longer established through language but through the body and its manipulation, which therefore constitutes the main vector of transmission. The hybridization of filmic styles borrowed from both drama and soap opera and plays on a discontinuity of the narrative supported by absurd or indeed anti-narrative arcs that creates a bewilderment close to the effect produced in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). In Mellor’s fiction, objects, characters, props, actors are all manipulated and manipulable bodies stratifying their order of appearance. The post-performance objects and the moving image perpetuate a loop in which a question remain: Do the scenarios tell the story of the sculptures or are they made for the scenarios (14)?

The exhibition ends with Coleman Collins’ video The Anxiety of incompleteness (2019), which contrasts with the means of production previously seen. The economy  of stop motion shows a choreography to a repetitive musical rythme of mass-produced angel figurines that again play with scale, enlarged like cartoon characters. Cute (15) little angels spin around in a group, except for one whose wing is broken and who is eventually rejected by the group. We understand the reflection on absence as an element of difference. The economy of means of the moving image stages an economy of beliefs (16), and reflects on the mythologies tending towards a unity involving purity present in ideologies with fascist tendencies. This video seems to bring a belief system into a loop that again can be retrieved and manipulated for political gain. A valchromat panel Rêveuse (2020) indicates a hollowed-out figure surrounded by fragments of wings, with a form of extrusion that performs the image.

The performed images question our attention and request our gaze to perform their reception as well. But in these post-performed images and objects, nothing appears utterly strange to us. The film industry proliferates with numerous regimes of references to TV series, films, film-making techniques and sets.We come across caricatured, funny, irreverent characters, allegories projecting a social reality, a collapsed dream, underlying power dynamics, economies exacerbated by performativity, collective memories, a political, temporal and sensual body…We could extend the enumeration, but we may choose to conclude with this post-exhibition review, that the attitudes tied to performance, or therefore post-performances – in this first prospective – create the image and make these projections visible.

(1) Conversation between Marie Canet, Marie de Brugerolle and Catherine Wood, ‘From Performance to Post-Performance’ in Mousse, n°44, 2014, p1. 162-171.

(2) Marie de Brugerolle mentions the notion of an expanded stage that is similar to a set.

(3) Wolfgang Stoerchle opened the first class that combined performance and video. See: “Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles”, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p86.

(4) Florence Chilaud, Martin Delassalle, Aude Le Gallou and Pauline Guinard, “Los Angeles dans Mulholland Drive de David Lynch”, in Amerika [Online], 9, 2013

(5) Room or dressing room for the actors’ preparation.

(6) City in Mississippi where a racist lynching took place in 1964. See Marie de Brugerolle, “Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles”, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p88.

(7) “Southern Strategy” popularised by Richard Nixon and the Republican party during his campaign for the 1968 presidential election. The strategy was intended to appeal to a white conservative constituency in the American South.

(8) In Rodney Mcmillian’s artistic practice the notion of the post-consumer object is recurrent. The term refers to the entire economic system related to an object that acquires value through the economic systems through which it transits (from the initial materials, to sale, then second hand sale, to the museum space). These objects take on a symbolic value after their consumption. See Marie de Brugerolle, “Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles”, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p88.

(9) Hendrick Folkerts, “Post-Performance, variation” in Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p101-107.

(10) Reference the manipulators of the Japanese theatre of the 17th century “bunkaru”. In this type of theatre the dolls characters are manipulated without the manipulation being hidden from the audience.

(11) Term borrowed from Marie de Brugerolle, see “Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles”, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p95.

(12) Reference to the character named The Object  who eats a book entitled The Eternal Present.

(13) Marie de Brugerolle, “Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles”, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p94.

(14) The artist “writes scripts for sculptures and makes sculptures for scripts”. Quote from Nathaniel Mellors in “Nathaniel Mellors” by Vanessa Morriset in 02 magazine. The quote is originally from the interview “Des bâtons dans les roues de l’histoire”, between Mattia Rosti and Nathaniel Mellors, June 2021, in Nathaniel Mellors, Permanent Presents, Editions du FRAC Bretagne, 2021, p. 153

(15) Cute which could refer to the term as analysed by Sianne Ngai in Our Aesthetic Categories. Zany, Cute, Interesting, Ed. Harvard University Press, 2015. Cute saturates postmodern culture and the discourse on the ambivalent feelings triggered by certain objects, whether commodities or media. Sianne Ngai theorises the cute (along with the zany and the interesting) as an aesthetic category in relation to the performance of the late capitalist era.

(16) See the exhibition text, which provides information on the various references linked to the work. See “Post-Performance video, Prospective 1 Los Angeles”, exhibition catalogue, Mousse Publishing, 2021, p97.

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Exhibition view. Credits : Aurélien Mole.

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Exhibition view, Anna Wittenberg. Credits : Aurelien Mole.

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Rodney Mcmillian, Neshoba County Fair, 2012, video installation (6’39’’) and 27 pencil drawing on paper by Horace Taylor (1942-1956), 29,2 x 20,3 cm each. Courtesy of the artist & Vielmetter Los Angeles. Credit : Aurélien Mole.

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Anna Wittenberg, Squarefoot, 2020, video installation and sculptures (Concrete Feet – The Drunk), 15’16”. Courtesy of the artist. Credit : Aurélien Mole.

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Nathaniel Mellors. Our House -1 (Time), détail, 2015-2016, video, 59’. Courtesy of the artist & Crèvecoeur, Paris. Nathaniel Mellors, Reliquary Reliquary (Degenerate Cycle), 2016, resin, straws, paint, polymerized plaster, silicon, hairs, plexiglass, wood, 180 x 51 x 41 cm. Courtesy of the artist & Crèvecoeur, Paris. Nathaniel Mellors, Neanderthal Restyle, 2016, resin, straw, paint, polymerized plaster, 58 x 58 x 25. Courtesy of the artist and Crèvecoeur Paris. Credit : Aurélien Mole.

Post-performance vidéo, Prospective 1 : Los Angeles

Coleman Collins, The anxiety of incompleteness, 2019, video HD, 6’. Courtesy of the artist. Credit : Aurelien Mole.