I start off my research with Christian Marclay, who is a swiss and american artist who deals with a variety of media. His work that affected me the most was definitely the vinyl series, where he cut, and mismatched different vinyls and put them back together and played them. I found it to be an incredibly relevant and creative way to deal with music in a new way. That's mainly what I will take from him is the fact that he is fearless in his creative compulsions. I am very interested in sound at the moment, and so I want to continue my research looking at people who explored music in a new way.
JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Jonathan Seliger: You perform music and use sound as a subject for your art; were you a musician or a visual artist first?
Christian Marclay: I started as a visual artist. I studied art in Switzerland where I grew up and came to the United States in 1977, to the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. That is where I began to get interested in performance art, and it was through this interest that I started to play music.
Seliger: What was the performance art coming out of?
Marclay: People like Dan Graham, Vito Acconci, and Laurie Anderson, but more directly from Punk Rock. There were a lot of bands, everybody started a band. In New York, a lot of this music experimentation, like No Wave music and Punk Rock, was taking place in clubs and had a strong influence on the art world. Art people would be directly connected to the music, and a lot of bands came out of art schools. At the time there was a lot happening in clubs, and it was more interesting to me than what was happening in the galleries. Right now that symbiosis between music and art doesn't exist anymore; throughout the 1980s the galleries became powerful and things got very commercial, people were in the art business to make money, and that kind of killed live art. People gave up performances and went back to the studios. I feel now there's a possibility of a return to more ephemeral activities. Maybe it's in times of economic crisis, like the one we're experiencing right now, that people find more innovative and daring ways to make art. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the experimentation was really happening in clubs like the Pyramid or 8BC, where tons of things were taking place every night. At the time I was not showing in galleries, I was only performing.
Seliger: Were you performing by yourself?
Marclay: By myself or with a band called Mon Ton Son. I was also starting to work with John Zorn, in his big game pieces based on improvised music. For a few months John Zorn had a storefront called The Saint, where we would play with many different improvisers. There was also a club called The Chandelier.
Seliger: How did the visual art that you were doing relate to all this?
Marclay: I made very little art throughout that period except for drawings and record collages often used in my performances. I would mix the records on turntables, so they were used as sound objects. I cut up various vinyl records and glued them back together in different configurations. As they were played, the needle would sample from different fragments of records. The music was loud and gritty.
Seliger: Would it just play or would you manipulate it further as it went?
Marclay: Yes, I would manipulate it. I was interested in the interaction of the performer with the recorded sound, very much in the fashion of a hip hop DJ, although I was doing it before I knew anything about hip hop. This was before it became popular. I wasn't making dance music, I was influenced more by people like John Cage and the musique concrete. I started using records because I didn't know how to play an instrument, but I wanted to perform. I started as a singer, using my voice with minimal lyrics, kind of talking, singing or screaming. That was with my band, The Bachelors Even, a duo using a guitar, voices, and background tapes. When I made the tapes I would use records, skipping records and things like that. Later, instead of using tapes, I started to use the actual records. I used them like an instrument, and could adapt my playing to a live situation, it allowed for a lot more freedom and spontaneity than tapes.
Seliger: It seems that from the start your work has always had a lot to do with collage, both in performance and with the objects.
Marclay: Yes. I've always used found objects, images and sounds, and collaged them together, and tried to create something new and different with what was available. To be totally original and start from scratch always seemed futile. I was more interested in taking something that existed and was part of my surroundings, to cut it up, twist it, turn it into something different; appropriating it and making it mine through manipulations and juxtapositions.
Seliger: Would you say that's more related to a Fluxus attitude or an appropriation strategy that became dominant in the 1980s?
Marclay: I think that sensitivity came from early on, even before I was interested in Fluxus artists and others using found objects. I've always been very interested in Duchamp and his idea of the ready-made and using mundane things. It didn't come from the appropriation strategy of the 1980s. In a way I think that when appropriation hit the art world, it was also very strong in the music world because of hip hop. That parallel interested me. Richard Prince and GrandMaster Flash were doing the same thing in the early eighties, but with different media. Appropriation is now such a standard thing in music with digital sampling technology.
Seliger: In an interview that you did for the Wexner Art Center, you stated with regard to the records: "I destroy, I scratch, I act against the fragility of the record in order to free the music from its captivity." It seems that the idea of change and time is a dominant thread that runs through your work. On the one hand one might think that by making a static visual object, you are interested in a retrieval or preservation of that thing, but in the performances you break the records or abuse them.
Marclay: The performances are time-based activities, in which I react to the objectification of music. Making an object, a sculpture, might seem contradictory because there's always that sense of preservation. I'm making something that might remain. But when I make objects it's more about change; altering the initial purpose of something in order to extract a new meaning. Change is the creative impulse. For instance, with these new Body Mixes, I combine several record covers in order to underscore that which we take for granted. The seductive covers are mutated into grotesque creatures. I point the finger at certain advertising methods, but I am also interested in a relation between the physical and the mechanical. We have always tried to give objects a human quality. We project on them a body scale, a texture, shape that resemble us. We give machines — or see in them — anthropomorphic qualities. The machine is an extension of the human body and the record is a mechanical object.
Seliger: What's interesting about these assemblages is that the record covers span a pretty broad period of time, from the 1960s through the 1980s, and during this time the whole notion of seduction and how to sell something has become a lot more sophisticated.
Marclay: We are not always aware of how we are being manipulated by the advertising techniques. They may now use more subliminal techniques, but ultimately sex has always been a big seller.
Seliger: In a sense I'd say that the marketing strategy that's typified by Michael Jackson's Bad album is distinctly different from that 1960s-looking Don Giovanni, which is combined with Highway Chile's Rockarama. Is your interest mainly visual or critical? I almost get the feeling that you're as interested in the narrative/discursive possibilities as you are in the figurative combinations.
Marclay: In every period the same kinds of mechanisms appear, and that becomes visible because I've mixed things from all these different times. What sells a classical record is not necessarily sex, but a more subtle patriarchal stereotype. The men on these covers are in control, directing with their hands in the foreground. On the other hand, the women are often shown with their backs to the camera, showing off their legs, looking over their shoulder. It's always a more vulnerable position. The same imagery appears in very different styles of music. The juxtapositions are a mix and match kind of process, it's like making a puzzle and I'm looking for the matching part. The juxtaposition of two different styles or periods is not so systematic. In that sense the initial choice is limited by the visual possibilities of what works or fits; so there is this incidental/accidental juxtaposition.
Within that framework, I still have many choices — I can find a different torso for these legs, but this one seemed to work because of the completely different styles of music, or the combination of the titles. The titles are sometimes very important. They become part of a poetic narrative.
Seliger: Would you say that it's more of an intuitive or a systematic process?
Marclay: Both. I forced myself to mix the genders. If I have female legs, then the torso will have to be male. It's a limitation in the process. The result can be intuitive as well, because of the many choices available. I'm not necessarily representing these bodies from a defined, gendered perspective. I want them to be either mixed gender or genderless or ambiguous, and that's a process that is used in advertising all the time. But my ambiguity is more grotesque, the seduction is disrupted. If I made a collage, say, of just female parts, then I would be playing the same game as advertisers. I had to be aware of that process and distance myself from it.
Seliger: With these pieces and perhaps the three-dimensional ones that preceded them, like the Skin Mixes, it seems like a big step away from some of your earlier work that had been more formally motivated. Pieces like Tape Fall, The Beatles, or the cubes of melted records were very distilled.
Marclay: In a way the new work has as many formal qualities, it is very graphic and colorful, but that's because the material used has those qualities. It's the only kind of serial work that I've ever made, besides the cover collages. In general I tend to work on one piece at a time, but because there were so many possible variations I was sort of forced to keep doing them, and follow their playfulness. The series for me is one piece with various components.
Seliger: I guess what I'm asking is whether there was a specific decision to make them more socially explicit?
Marclay: Perhaps that quality is more apparent here, but it follows a similar critical theme that comes up in my earlier work as well — the commodification of music, how music has become a salable object. I've done it with performances and with the objects. I'm trying to be critical of the whole music industry and the packaging plays a major role. I'm trying to make the recording process more apparent. We're so used to listening to music through recordings, it's a given, that's primarily how we experience music now. The live aspect is minimized. Other works might appear to be more contemplative or minimal, but they were motivated, in part, by the same desire to critique the music industry.
These pieces are dealing with more delicate issues, sex and music, and the question of political correctness. It's a very gray area. Some people see the work as critical, others see it as fun and playful and colorful, surreal or crazy. The seductive covers are turned into grotesque figures, some disturbing, others humorous. The advertising strategies are made visible forcing us to examine these covers more closely. Sex is not a new selling device, it is so old and common that we take it for granted. The woman's body is used everywhere. The woman on the packaging becomes the packaging, the flesh becomes a protective envelope, a protective skin for the record. There is a strange reversal of shape and sexual associations. The record is round, a feminine shape, the cover is square, masculine. But the cover is also the envelope, a slit that encloses the record. I wanted to blur the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, and also the distinction between music stars, idols, and the truncated and commodified bodies of un-known models.
The body is becoming more and more central to the sale of music through rock videos. The body is center stage, allowing a more physical identification by the consumer. The twelve-inch square of the old record cover allowed for an almost life-size representation of body parts. The head was the most common illustration, a teenager could kiss the face of her or his idol, a surrogate face, a life-size portrait. With compact discs you can't do that anymore, so in a sense the video compensates for that lack of advertising space.
Seliger: Along with being critical of the commodification of music, I'm wondering if by implication you're also involved with the art object as a commodity.
Marclay: Not specifically, but the art object is condemned to the same fate. Artists' activities, even those considered marginal and noncommercial, are being commodified by the art market. But these days everything ends up being salable, one way or another. Art like music today is inseparable from money.
Seliger: What is the relationship of your work to the Dada or Surreal object?
Marclay: It's very hard to dissociate oneself from art history, and often I've appropriated formal or stylistic devices to make my work. It tries to be original in content rather than form. People tend to think of the accidental juxtapositions in Surreal terms. But they are also very Cagean or Duchampian. It's hard to limit them to any one source, but I like to think that there is a tradition in art and that these are part of that tradition. People have tended to explain my work through visual association to older art, they drop names constantly and draw endless connections, but I use the process of appropriation as a device to make something that can be understood as an art object and can be accessed more easily. It is almost like a decoy.
For me the relation to Surrealism is more subtle and has to do with the erotic quality of machines as explored by certain artists such as Duchamp, Max Ernst or Picabia. The mechanical quality of the record is still very present for me. The turntable is a perfect machine célibataire in the Duchampian sense.
Seliger: The way that these albums are stitched together brings to mind Warhol's photo assemblages. I thought there was an interesting connection between the idea of repetition and time, and how that was somehow subtly alluded to perhaps through the stitching to Warhol, who in our time is the supreme icon of repetition and mechanical reproduction.
Marclay: I don't mind that association at all, because this whole body of work and some of the things that preceded it were triggered by Warhol's cover for the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album. I did another piece that had covers held together with zippers that were sewn on; I also stitched "sound sheets" together in the past. That's when I got started using a sewing machine, but to me the sewing here implied stitching in the medical sense. I wanted these body parts to be stitched together as a Frankenstein monster. I had that image in mind. I made another piece that was sewn roughly by hand. The repetitive aspect that you were talking about is also reinforced by the fact that these covers are not unique, and when you refer to Warhol it makes them more related to photography. I stitched them rather than glued them because I wanted them to exist in a three-dimensional field, I wanted them to have a presence that I don't think would be the same if they were glued. I wanted them to be record covers and not just photographs, I wanted them to be objects. The stitching more aggressively forced things together and the bond is visible.
Seliger: The way they're stitched together almost brings to mind that a disaster has occurred. The quantity of them makes them into a crowd, and maybe some horrific accident has happened and all these different parts have been stitched together.
Marclay: There is an implied violence in photography because of its cropping quality. Photog-raphy is about stealing, displacing, chopping up. The camera is a sharp weapon. Like sound recording, photography is a mechanical device that tries to simulate life. The recording and the photograph, both incomplete reproductions of nature, come together as record/ album to reinforce each other in their illusion. Like the "Charmin' Chatty" doll, the record is inside the body. You pull a string and it speaks. It's an aural accompaniment to the visual appearance. If you only saw one of the Body Mix pieces, it would have less of an impact, you might think, oh, what a nice coincidence! But when you see so many you have to wonder, what is going on here? Patterns begin to emerge. The amount of crotches and breasts and legs makes them almost so unoriginal and formulaic. The newer albums, like Michael Jackson's Bad, are more ambiguous or subliminal. It's not so obvious, but his hand is on his zipper — he finally unzipped it in the new video — and he's wearing a lot of make-up but, at the same time, he's trying to look very macho. There's a lot of bondage imagery. He is playing with his own gender identity. That confusion is used as a seduction device.
Seliger: To what degree are you simply presenting the imagery, and to what degree do you feel that you're commenting on it? Through the sheer volume and variety, you're presenting a lot of information.
Marclay: The restructured presentation is the commentary. But I don't want to limit the work to just being a critique of the advertising process. These found objects also bring back a whole picture book of memories from our collective past — images and sounds, or rather memories of sounds, not only a collective memory but a very personal one, unique to each viewer, associations that the remembered music might conjure up. I am not just presenting a collection of legs and arms or whatever, but in combining them I'm making fun of this fetishization, twisting it, and through humorous juxtapositions I hope the viewer can distance herself or himself from the initial relation to the commercial object. It is like comedy; while laughing, you can say things that are very pointed.
Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.
I went to this gallery at the Marian Goodman Gallery to see Danh Vo's new work. Danh Vo is a Danish and Vietnamese artist who rose to prominence making life size reproductions of parts of the statue of liberty. I had seen his work before, but never processed it as his or as something that I liked. I completely missed out on the statue of liberty part. I was blown away by this exhibition, though. I definitely didn't expect to find this incredible sculptural collage of actual antiquities. Looking at them inspired so many ideas throughout the day. Again, this is such a confident approach to art making, in the same way that Christian Marclays is.
Both seem to deal with simultaneousness extensively, and I've become very interested in that idea recently. Vo really highlights that through making compositions collecting different things from different times and places on earth. So it's not representing simultaneousness per se but it is collected now, and it makes me think of the world that we live in today, brought together mainly by religion which is now becoming more and more irrelevant in first world countries, as technology starts to reign over everything.
Hauser and Wirth Gallery
Rashid Johnson completely caught me off guard because I had not expected to go to Hauser and Wirth and did not have any knowledge of her work beforehand. She basically used one photograph and modeled all of her works off of that. As if they were studies of it. She also lined the wall with the photograph thatch used. I didn't get it at first, but gradually I came to understand the exhibit.
I thought the most interesting part was her violent repetitiveness. When it came to the original boy with the gun to his head smiling, it was already incredibly violent. Maybe violent potential is a better way to put it. In any case the repetitiveness was incredibly poignant, and the fact that they were giant portraits out of black wax and scratched into worked incredibly well to look into the inner workings of the boy's mind.
Nam June Paik
Kac - The relationship between art and new technology is as old as art itself. How do you see this relationship?
Paik - This is, in fact, a very old relationship. The Egyptian pyramids are the first example of a combination of high art and high tech, because they used many of the cutting edge technologies of the time. Their culture was very well developed. They had chemical industries (which produced colored pigments for painting), advanced building techniques, sophisticated security systems (to prevent invasion of the sacred spaces), and efficient mummification processes for the preservation of the human body, among other things. Today, new technologies can be used in art in two basic ways: in the fine arts and in the applied arts. Fine art is art for art's sake, in which I identify a kind of extension of conceptual art, according to which the concept is the context and the context is the concept. The context is the content; the content is the context. This means that the fine arts have always been interested in the new horizons of possibilities. When Picasso created Cubism, he did so because he was tired of Impressionism. Monet created Impressionism because he was tired of Academicism ÜÜ artists have always been interested in the new sensibility, in exploring new possibilities. Since today we have satellites, we want to use them, discover what we, artists, can do with them. We want to try something new, in the tradition of Monet and Picasso. These same instruments (satellites) are used in the applied arts, which are essential to humankind because they are useful in everyday life. But there is also the military use of satellites. We want to use satellites for pacifist purposes, such as the performance arts, rock'n roll, dance, etc.; and we can make simultaneous transmissions between Rio de Janeiro, New York, Seoul, Bonn, Tokyo, Moscow and many other cities. It is clear that the applied arts are directly related to people's activities, but the fine arts are more meaningful than the applied arts.
Kac - You have a strong musical background. In 1956 you studied music at the University of Munich and at the Music Conservatory of Freiburg, in Germany. In 1958 you worked in Cologne, in the Rundfunk Electronic Music Studios, where Stockhausen also worked. In your telecommunication events you often include performances of rock'n roll or pop music. How do you relate music and video?
Paik - MTV's videoclips have already shown that there is great intimacy between sound and image. People are used to these electronic collages. If you compare them to the underground films of the '60s, you will find lots of common traits, such as abrupt cuts and unusual angles, among other characteristics. MTV is not the only approach to the issue of sound-and-image, but it is an interesting solution, which has contributed a lot to the development of a "visual music", and to video art. I believe that Laurie Anderson's work, for example, is very important, because she bridges the gap between "low culture" and "high culture". The standards of "low art" are being raised dramatically. When Elvis Presley appeared in the '50s, fine artists did not appreciate his work. But when the Beatles appeared, in the '60s, fine artists admired and respected them. I see a major change under way. As opposed to Presley, who was a driver, musicians like David Bowie or David Byrne are educated, well-informed people, with solid backgrounds. They admire Marcel Duchamp and other important artists. A visual artist can talk to them at the same intellectual level because they were visual artists before turning professional musicians. But there is no reason for them to create high art, anyway. There are always artists focused on this kind of work, like Ray Johnson and the members of Fluxus, among so many others.
Kac - One of the trends of high tech art is the integration of multiple media. Do you believe that video and holography will ever cross paths? What is the future of high tech art?
Paik - Holography, which is very different from video, is the next horizon. I've seen excellent holograms in the Museum of Holography, and, in fact, new discoveries are made in this field every day. A single hologram contains a lot of information, which means that magnetic tape will not be used as storage medium. Most likely, optical recording systems, such as compact disks, will one day store holographic images. Artists creating high tech art must be careful not to fall into the decorative trap. They must prevent the high tech from overpowering the art. If we can avoid this danger, then it will be all right.
Kac - Your first large-scale telecommunication art event was "Good Morning Mr. Orwell." Then came "Bye Bye Mr. Kipling." Now it is "Wrap Around the World." How does this third piece complement the others?
Paik - The first work was not about communications between East and West, it was a link between France and the United States. The second focused exactly on that; the link was between Korea, Japan, and the United States. Now I want to create a link that involves the whole world. This is the main difference. The second difference is that we are working now more with popular arts than with high art performances. It is a big risk to create a live television show in such a large scale with high art only, because television is an entertainment medium and we have to be careful. We have to be a little conservative to minimize the risks of a transmission between several continents. I am not saying that we are not creating high art, but that we are creating a new high art with new materials. We are using these new materials to work with the temporal element of the popular arts, the rhythm, which is so important in video art. This is my last satellite show, but it is also the beginning of a larger satellite movement of the future.
Nam June Paik is incredibly interesting when it comes to looking at the marriage between sound and video along with it's object or presentation. I think Paik is the first artist that I have encountered who embraces the limits of video as "the ultimate reproduction of our way of perceiving the world" and uses it to his advantage. I'm most gripped by the way he explores and blurs the boundary between the physical and the purely visual. The main example that I like is the piano above, where the video would not exist without the piano, the sound would not exist without the piano, but the video is the main component of what you're supposed to see.
I feel like that notion to embrace the imperfections of video as a medium has so many amazing implications for exploration. There are so many things that can be done in both the display of the work and also the creation of the work.
"Lucio Fontana began to punch holes (or buchi) through his canvases in 1949–50, the aim being literally to break through the surface of the work so that the viewer could perceive the space that lies beyond. Fontana seems to have regarded this gesture as a means of disclosing the unlimited space of the sublime, announcing, ‘I have created an infinite dimension’.1 Towards the end of the 1950s, the artist experimented further with cuts (or tagli) executed with a razor. Although carefully premeditated, the slashes in these later canvases – Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ (Tate T00694, fig.1) dates from 1960 – appear spontaneous and bear a certain resemblance to the ‘zips’ in the abstract expressionist paintings of Barnett Newman. The effect of Fontana’s cutting varies from canvas to canvas. In some works, such as this one, the viewer is drawn into the space beyond the canvas; in other works the slash seems to erupt outwards, conveying the force of the original assault towards the viewer in a way that is both energetic and terrifying. Despite the obviously violent implications of his art, Fontana maintained that he had set out to construct rather than to destroy."
“For his ongoing series, Following the right hand, Pierre Bismuth does just that. He projects a feature film onto a sheet of Plexiglas and painstakingly follows the movements of the lead actress’ right hand with a black marker. The resultant abstract drawings are then enframed over a 30 by 40 inch photographic print of a still image from the film. The image selected by the artist represents the moment that he disengages from the actress, sometimes near the beginning of the film, creating a simple drawing; but just as often near the end of the film, creating an aggressive thicket of marks that almost obliterate the filmic image. In this way, the motion picture is occluded by a chance pattern that constitutes a kind of messy signature made by the actress. There is an undeniably fetishistic aspect of this work, as a portion of its appeal is linked to the actress’s name and aura; at the same time, the focus on the squiggly marks paradoxically negates the film, along with its star, by obscuring them with black ink, frustrating our desire to connect with the screened image.”
Bismuth, in this series, did a very interesting thing that inspired me more than I knew when I first looked at it. Looking at what I've been doing with my hole punched photographs, the most successful ones have involved people in them, and the most interesting thing is that those people are completely unaware of the photograph, or the hole punch, or the fact that if I had pointed the camera one centimeter to the right they would have been left unrecorded (if the hole punch covered them). So Bismuth did something very similar, with it's studies of these movie scenes. Basically its a line documenting the line of sight that the actors or actresses carry out throughout the shot. There's something very interesting and very indicative of the mood of the scene. Again it's the unaware part that I'm interested in. These actors never would have thought that somebody would analyze their eye movements in this kind of way, and maybe that's why they're so revealing.
Canadian artist Janet Cardiff (b 1957) is best known for her numerous audio works and films, often created in collaboration with her partner George Bures Miller.
Thomas Tallis, one of the most influential English composers of sixteenth century, wrote Spem in Alium nunquam habui, a choral work for eight choirs of five voices, to mark the fortieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth I in 1575. This piece of music deals with transcendence and humility, both important issues to a Catholic composer during a time when the Catholic faith was suppressed by the Sovereignty.
Using this piece of secular music as a starting point and working with four male voices (bass, baritone, alto and tenor) and child sopranos, Cardiff has replaced each voice with an audio speaker. The speakers are set at an average head height and spaced in such a way that viewers can listen to different voices and experience different combinations and harmonies as they progress through the work.
A few moments before the music begins the choir’s preparations can be heard along with fragments of conversations and the choir leader’s encouraging comments to the performers. All of this builds up to the sublime moment when the first solitary and plaintive voice is heard.
With Forty-Part Motet Cardiff offers a very personal and intimate engagement with the Tallis music, but one that is experienced in an open and public way:
Even in a live concert the audience is separated from the individual voices. Only the performers are able to hear the person standing next to them singing in a different harmony. I wanted to be able to ‘climb inside’ the music connecting with the separate voices. I am also interested in how the audience may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space.
Janet Cardiff: untitled statement in Elusive Paradise: The Millennium Prize at the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario, 2001 (brochure)
John Baldessari, Marian Goodman Gallery
John Baldessari was another opening that I went to at the Marian Goodman Gallery. His work reminded me a lot of the Pierre Bismuth work. It wasn't just the fact that they were both working with found images, it was more their examination of the layers of visual language. Baldessari took it another way, rather than the work dealing with something that the actor does he works with combining things that the actors are completely not connected to.
I like the idea of combining different things that are happening in the same space of time (in this scenario its script and image which is in a movie, so that time space is as if it's simultaneous). It makes me think of the illegal chinese copies that sometimes I've come across, where the subtitles are for the wrong movie, so as it goes along there may be a devastating scene on and the subtitles are saying something completely the opposite in almost an insulting way.