December 2013 Archives

December 23, 2013

International Jarman Blue


I am so stoked to see Derek Jarman's Blue in the 2nd floor galleries at MoMA. It is truly one of the most formative film experiences I've ever had, and it changed the way I thought of both movies and monochromes. And it captured and collapsed art and film and a moment of outrageous, despairing history, when the personal and cultural toll from HIV/AIDS seemed almost beyond hope. Which is a lot for any film to carry, much less one as unusual as Blue.

The last year and a half or so, whenever the radio gets too cloying or annoying, I've taken to listening to the soundtrack for Blue sometimes in the car. It's weird that an angry elegy against indifference, AIDS, and death would be so pleasant. Maybe emotionally satisfying is a better term. But I can easily recall the first times I saw Blue, at the NYFF in October 1993, and then at the New Yorker Cinema during its release.

But enough about me, because there are important things that I still didn't realize about Blue precisely because my own intense personal encounter with the film blinded me [sic] to them.

Like I knew that Jarman had chosen Blue's blue for its reference to Yves Klein, but I did not realize that Jarman had been contemplating a monochrome IKB film for Klein as early as 1974, as sort of a cinematic answer to the painter's Symphonie Monotone. Blue went through many titles and Klein-centered iterations before becoming what it finally was: a poetic documentary of Jarman's own life and illness. [A lot of this stuff comes from Rowland Wymer's 2006 Derek Jarman biography, which is a good read, even if "colour field" doesn't mean what Wymer thinks it means.]

It very much became a film about Jarman's losing his sight, and the effective end of his career, even though that's not at all what it had been before. Because before also meant before all that went down. Blue's unchanging monochrome field was able to accommodate whatever content changes Jarman brought to it.

jarman_bliss_book_chelsea_space.jpgWhen Blue was still called Bliss, back in 1987, and was a Klein-related companion film to The Last of England, Jarman filled a notebook with dialogue, poems, and IKB monochrome paintings. The Bliss Book and other Blue-related preparatory and archival material will be in "Almost Bliss," an exhibition next month at Chelsea Space, London, England.

Blue really took its finished form beginning in 1991, not as a film, but as a performance/event. Jarman and Tilda Swinton first performed Bliss at a charity fundraiser for his hospital, sandwiched between a performance of Klein's Symphonie Monotone and a screening of The Garden. [Which must've been quite a night: the Klein's supposed to be 40 minutes, and The Garden's an hour and a half.]

A still of Klein's IKB 71 (Californie), 1961, which, I have no idea what his film loop looked like, but this one seemed appropriately cinematic. It's in a private collection, but was at the Met a few years ago.

At first Jarman used a film loop of a Klein monochrome. When the film jammed, Jarman switched to a blue gel. I don't quite know why, but I find this easy passing between media and image to be fascinating. Bliss's blue began as a film of an object, but then the object disappeared, replaced by a light effect. Later, when Blue was complete, and aired simultaneously on Channel 4 and BBC radio, listeners were invited to send for a monochrome blue card they could stare at during the broadcast. A broadcast image replaced by an object.

The project evolved and funding came through in 1992, and Jarman's own stories became the central theme. All along I figured that Jarman maybe didn't film anything, that the blue was a chemical aspect of the film print itself. But Wymer's book says the blue was "electronically produced." I confess, I find this something of a letdown, even if it means MoMA's probably OK to show Blue on digital projection rather than film. And it makes me want to do something around or to Blue and its visuals. I don't know what yet.

#53 Almost Bliss: Notes on Derek Jarman's Blue, curated by Donald Smith, 29.01.14 - 15.03.14, Chelsea Space []
buy Derek Jarman (2006) by Rowland Wymer [amazon]

JUNE 2014 UPDATE In Issue 165 of Frieze (May 2014), Paul Schütze talked with Simon Fisher Turner about his longtime musical collaborations with Jarman, including the making of Blue.

Turner says they probably did six or seven live concerts of Bliss/Blue before the film. I wonder if any of them were recorded? Also this bombshell:

Derek and I had really big arguments about Blue, because at one stage people wanted to put images into it and I said, 'You're mad!' By then my relationship with Derek was really good. I'd say, 'Listen, this is really what I think.' Then he suggested that it would be great to have some gold drifting down amidst the blueness, because he loved gold, or the occasional shadow of movement. I objected and said, 'Please NO! It has to be pure.'

"Oh, just the press getting access to the Oval Office, NBD," Pete Souza trolled.

It's almost embarrassing that I did not make the Sforza/Souza connection until this outrage crested. But maybe now is the right moment.

Last month the White House News Photographers Association and 37 other groups and media organizations complained to the White House that they were being frequently blocked or excluded from covering Pres. Obama's activities. And that the White House was instead releasing its own video and photographs, usually taken by WH official photographer Pete Souza.

Team Obama responded, it seems, by releasing the above Souza picture as the White House Photo of The Day. And as USNews reports [really? They're even still around?] the "media" were "enraged":

Julie Mason, SiriusXM POTUS press pool host and former White House Correspondents' Association board member, saw Friday's photo and suggested it was an equivalent to a middle finger, a snub and an eye roll. "All of that, plus a drop of anxiety," Mason wrote in an email. "Behold how sensitive the White House is to claims they shut the press out."

BagNewsNotes, a website that analyzes images, was the first to notice Friday's Oval Office picture and called the White House "incredibly petty" for putting it out, arguing that photojournalists should have been offered the opportunity to capture President Obama doing something personal, instead of another staged photo-op.

Personal? Staged photo-op? Are these somehow mutually exclusive? Here's what BagNews actually wrote:
People in high places should always be mindful how much they are saying, or not saying, with a picture. If the White House intended even a half-respectful gesture, they would have provided access to the president yesterday in a spot that was personal, doing something personal -- graciously offering to the visual media (if just to lower the heat and at least suggest you get it) just one of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of scenes only Pete Souza has been privy to for six years now.
Half-respectful gesture? Graciously offering? I guess now I'm at a loss as to what the actual problem is here.

The actual letter sent to press spokesman Jay Carney argues that the WH is wrongly excluding journalists by declaring public, newsworthy White House activities "private," and then releasing only official photos. But BagNews is complaining about Souza's insider exclusive on actual "personal" activities. These are completely different types of events.

real or real staged? I can't tell or remember now.

At first I'd just meant to post a quick plus ça change, because literally the exact same complaint had been lodged by the same photographers against the George W. Bush administration, in 2006. Then the issue came to a head when the White House released a photo of Bush looking out the window of Air Force One on a brief Katrina flyover. Except when I went to look for the image, it turns out that photojournalists had been permitted to take essentially the same shot, including the AP's Susan Walsh, who filed the 2006 handout complaint.

The issue has not died down, just the opposite. A couple of weeks ago the AP's Santiago Lyon wrote an op-ed in the NY Times titled, chillingly, "Obama's Orwellian Image Control." Lyon cites iconic photos or news-worthy moments that photojournalists captured which "show--surprise--the president is human." Except all but one of Lyons' examples were outside the White House [Nixon leaving], straight news [Reagan's hospital window], or at totally staged press events [GWB's Sept. 11 bookreading, and his rousing rubble mounting at the WTC.]

The other example, JFK Jr. peeking out from under his father's Oval Office desk, does not serve Lyon's argument well. Kennedy had calculated the political value of his children's images from early in his campaign, and photojournalist Stanley Tretick had become the president's go-to guy for sympathetic, "human" images. He was the Pete Souza of his day, whose nominal employer happened to be, not the White House, but LOOK Magazine. In October 1963, two months after the death of their third child, and when the overprotective Jackie was vacationing on Aristotle Onassis' yacht, JFK brought in Tretick for some exclusive hangin-out picture time with the kids. Is this the kind of independent journalistic access the media is clamoring for?

img: still from Stephen Crowley's epic 32-sec. pool spray video, 2009

I think the journos are totally right to give the administration crap about limits to access; they should push for whatever they can, and raise the political price for the WH's own communications/image policy. But let's look at what they're really arguing over: 'pool sprays,' 30-second drive-by photo ops of people doing nothing. Let's see what we've already lost: 'Sforzian Replays,' where the president re-performs some act or re-gives a speech for video and still photographers. The White House image machine is weird and complex and conflicted, and everyone wants to control it to their own ends.

If Special Moments or human interest photos are being brought in-White House, then old/corporate/non-government media should come up with a new visual product. And maybe they start by looking around at their own freakshow presence. BagNewsNotes said some photographers read Souza's image up top as an act of visual aggression, "a subliminal 'screw you.'" Why don't they give right back?

img: Jim Watson/AFP

In October, BagNewsNotes posted a notable collection of pictures of House Speaker John Boehner caught in the media scrum during the government shutdown: Shooting Boehner: Shutdown Visuals Meet GOP Aggression:

What's going on, symbolically of course, are the press members -- as the proxies of the people -- not just dropping their typical submissiveness but actually challenging Boehner's destructiveness and irresponsibility.
BNN also calls it "breaking the contract," [their scare quotes] the contract which apparently precludes media from "panning out," thereby acknowledging its own circus existence. BNN's editorial take is that Boehner and the GOP basically brought this chaotic imagery on themselves.

Is there a White House "contract" too, and if so, hasn't the White House broken it, and mightn't White House beat photographers protest by taking nothing but complicated and aggressive pictures? If the Obama administration's only giving them shit images, why don't they put it in a bag on the White House porch and light it on fire?

White House Pic of the Day of Media Enrages Media []
Shooting Boehner: Shutdown Visuals Meet GOP Aggression [bagnewsnotes]
Limit on Access Stirs Tensions Between White House Photographer and Press Corps [nyt]
Obama's Orwellian Image Control [nyt]

Previously: It's all done with mirrors
And previously in the Bush era: WH Beat Photogs Upset At Staged Photographs They Don't Take

December 17, 2013

Olga (2007/2009-)

Recently 20th Century Fox asked me to make a short film to promote the upcoming release of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It would be about following your dreams or something, I don't remember the details too well; there had just been a hurricane in the Philippines that was really bumming me out. So I said sure, dug up a short film no one's seen yet anyway, and pocketed the entire budget myself.

And so, Olga of 67th Street. I made this short film several years ago, but it's never really been seen by anyone except the subject, Ms. Olga Bogach. I happened to meet Olga in 2007, and I rough cut the footage together in 2009. I just pulled it off the old hard drive where it had been stuck, and decided to put it online.

Olga was for many years a muse, model, and secretary to artists living in her building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I really don't want to say too much about the video at this point. Partly because it might get reworked a bit, but also because I'm really kind of swamped with other stuff. But mainly because I think the piece is a little complicated, and it hangs together [assuming it does, of course] by the slightest of threads, and to presplain it all would ruin its chances. Olga's story and especially her telling of it, is so refined, so precise, I still find myself fascinated with listening to her every detail. The Calendar Artist.

Anyway, I do want to thank Olga, and my father-in-law, who invited me on very short notice to accompany him on his visit.

Olga of 67th Street (21:37), 2009-

December 8, 2013

Than Friend Brad

Than Friend Brad, 2013

via @willak comes this collaboratively written essay by Brad Troemel, Artie Vierkant, and Ben Vickers, Club Kids: The Social Life of Artists on Facebook. It is so perfectly and myopically descriptive of their situation as social network artists and curators without recognizing the situation as deeply problematic, that it's exasperating to read. Until the very end, when they seem to conclude that yes, Facebook is not the world, or even the internet, but a "bad infinity" [pace Hegel], where the seeming endlessness of choice is a controlled, corporate deception.

And so, too, would be the very idea of an artistic practice or an artistic dialogue that centers/exists/originates on Facebook, and that is comprised of posts documenting "the artist's online brand" and her "lifestyle," activity driven by and judged by likes and friendings and other technosocial cues.

Why go to such great lengths to make and photograph a painting that will net 5 Likes when a photo of you and your friends eating 50 McChickens could net hundreds?
First off, don't get me started on the "make and photograph a painting" thing; I've curated Contemporary Art Daily-only shows in my head the same as anyone else. So please don't pretend that actually painting a painting--especially one that requires going to "great lengths," whatever that may mean--doesn't change your very being just as surely as eating 50 McChickens does.

And anyway, it seems like this essay was written well over a year ago, before Facebook's IPO, and Troemel and friends are still ordering exclusively off Art's Value Meal, tumblin' rebloggable insta-art, curating themselves into IRL group shows without a critical care in the world.

In this new age of Smarm we suddenly find ourselves living in, Brad and Artie's mapping of their platform's spectrum of critical discourse seems very apt:

Feedback, if any, is always on a scale ranging from positive to non-existent--the Like function itself being explicitly designed as a binary function between total consensus and total lack of response. Instead of moving the artistic conversation forward, most people are literally just happy to be part of the online conversation, to be part of the club or whatever other indistinct social group they silently pledge allegiance to.
This seems like a very shitty environment in which to make art, and frankly, I'd be surprised if people who spend six figures for two years of MFA crits would put up with it. Or maybe that's exactly what they crave after they're out of school: affirmation, reassurance, participation, belonging, naked acknowledgement of one's existence and activity.

But what's the alternative?

Posting work to the internet with no social network readily in place is synonymous with the riddle 'If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?' For young artists on the internet the answer to the forest question is 'no'- their work will easily go unnoticed, making their participation as a social actor an a priori necessity to contextualizing what they do as art.
Except it turns out that just because you can't hear it, doesn't mean it doesn't make a sound. Elephants can hear sounds below the range of human detection. 7-Eleven owners blast music at loitering teenagers at frequencies Olds cannot perceive. Don't make art only for your friends' affirmation, or for Hans Ulrich's attention. There are people in the world you don't know.

It would behoove the Facebook Artist to get off Facebook once in a while, at least, where you can find critical responses beyond "total lack of response," and people making and engaging art that is not interchangeable with lifestyle, and who don't give much of a damn about fave parties.

Club Kids: The Social Life of Artists on Facebook [dismagazine]

UPDATE Wow, so much quietly delivered support for this post. Intriguing! And thanks!

Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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greg [at] greg [dot ] org

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about this archive

Posts from December 2013, in reverse chronological order

Older: November 2013

Newer January 2014

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017

Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

Chop Shop
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

Standard Operating Procedure
about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots

HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.

Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

Canal Zone Richard
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99