Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The other fascinating experience in Montréal was a visit to the Modern Art Museum, to see Eve Sussman's piece, made with the Rufus Corporation, White on White.
This piece looks like a film. You go into a room, you sit down, and you watch it. You are in an audience. There are images, characters and dialogue. The actors are clearly located in a recognisable world - it's Eastern Europe. At times the settings are very specific - as in the image above, which is a careful reproduction of Yuri Gagarin's office. But actually this is not a film in a conventional way, because the scenes are not ordered. Rather, the editing is generated by a computer using algorithms, so that there is some sort of association between the scenes (the result of hash-tags), but it isn't any sort of narrative sequence planned by the artist. The apparent logic by which the plot unfolds is in fact totally random.
And yet, the strange thing is that you can't help treating it as if it were a normal film - because all the signals are telling you that's what it is. And so you start to create narrative out of the juxtapositions of scenes, and to generate plot-lines which may be unfurling. The fact that none of them lead anywhere, and that the film refuses to end or to loop makes this deeply dis-orienting. It is also very close to lived experience - nothing ties up neatly.
In many ways this is a response to the collapse of the grand narrative - both in terms of the end of Communist ideology in the East and the failure of late capitalism in the West. It also suggests a kind of post-traumatic numbness - I was reminded of it as I watched the Guatemalan film Polvo that evening. This is a "real" film, but again the narrative is fragmented and difficult for the viewer to re-construct. As if the experience of genocide no longer allows the characters to live in a way that "makes sense" - either to them or to their implicated spectators.