BY Dan Fox in Reviews | 01 JUN 09
Featured in
Issue 124

The Politics in the Room

BY Dan Fox in Reviews | 01 JUN 09

Katy Woods, A short sketch at a night-time establishment: time passed by a young lady in the presence of another, with Musical accompaniment, 2009, video still

What are the politics of the room you are in? This question, posed by American artist Gregg Bordowitz, was the catalyst for an ambitious online project by eight artists on the LUX Associate Artists Programme, a professional development course, led by Ian White, for London-based filmmakers. The 'politics' in question centred mainly on those of personal volition, psychology, emotion, local and professional pressures.

Made up of eight videos, the project unfolded over a month, with two episodes posted each week at the project’s website. The homepage was designed with an ‘olde worlde’ letterpress aesthetic, with each ‘chapter’ titled like a long-winded Victorian novel. Watched online, at home or at work, the project had an intimacy that a normal gallery presentation, with all its conventions, might have failed to achieve.

Containing much Matter on realizing a Mind of Singular Orientation: a highly Personal Affair (all works 2009), by Claire Hope, was the opening episode. Two women and a man sit in a quiet pub. One of the women, Louise, appears to be a mediator between the others. Inter-titles punctuating their conversation tell us that Karl is hyper-rational and Sam prefers to follow her feelings. We also learn that Louise has ‘designed a human being with a completely balanced character’, and is assessing Karl and Sam for an operation which would unify them into an equable individual. Jump cuts give the conversation a halting quality, further underlined by the wooden delivery of the dialogue. Strangely, this also lends the video a somewhat sinister, cultish quality – as if to suggest that too much self-theorizing might lead one down dark ideological paths.

Part 1, Misty Boundaries Fades and Dissolves; Part 2, Misty Boundaries Has Left the Room, by James Richards, opens with a sequence of brief vignettes: a puff of steam, a hand being held, soap bubbles, a blizzard, followed by a clip from a television programme about how to draw. A voice sings the phrase ‘move your body’ over sparse percussion and a girl zones out in a classroom as the tutorial explains how to realistically depict an eye. Webcam images rub against grainy black and white film footage. The video closes with a screensaver icon bouncing around to the sound of a wistful house track.

Whereas Richards’ allusive and fragmentary video suggests an attempt to understand how perception and personal expression are affected by today’s digital network culture, Rachel Reupke’s Containing Matters of no very peaceable Colour is more clinical. Slow zooms move in on neatly laundered towels, as computerized voices describe each scene, including camera directions, descriptions of individuals on the street and phrases taken from personal ads. A Getty Images ‘watermark’ appears across the centre of the screen followed by shots of bathroom tiles. Quite what Reupke was attempting to say about cosmetics, copyright and social relations is hard to fathom, but the tough aesthetic of her episode contrasted well with both Richards’ contribution and the simplicity of the following video, A short Sketch at a night-time establishment: time passed by a young Lady in the presence of another, with Musical accompaniment, by Katy Woods, in which a middle-aged woman dances in an empty nightclub to ‘Why’ (1982) by Carly Simon. What, Woods might be asking, are the politics in the room when you are alone?

James Richards, Part 1, Misty Boundaries Fades and Dissolves; Part 2, Misty Boundaries Has Left the Room, 2009, video still

Matthew Noel-Tod’s episode, Realism – Is it Biologically Possible? Containing a Hint or two concerning Virtue, and a few more concerning Suspicion, which we hope will be very attentively perused by young People of both Sexes, features rapidly edited shots of a lemon and a banana, across which flash a succession of unrelated captions. Negative but unspecific, these occasionally refer to a sexually exploitative movie or what might be Noel-Tod’s film itself. A high-pitched tone is heard, accented at points by a house track (the recurrent use of dance music in ‘The Politics in the Room’ is an intriguing thread). Compositionally, the piece makes direct reference to Hollis Frampton’s 1969 film Lemon; Noel-Tod seems as much concerned with the politics of influence, as he is with self-reflexivity and pre-emptive critical response.

Comprised of abstract sequences that look like low-resolution clips from a Len Lye film, along with fish-eye lens shots of residential streets, James Sweetbaum’s The Inattention of Collecting, in which is collected the Curious remembrances of said meanderings indulging the necessary Ramblings of a Restless state, concerns personal anxiety. Sweetbaum narrates a story involving a family dinner party, a wine cellar and the killing of two white, furry creatures, which he reveals to be the dream he had the night before his interview for the LUX programme. Anja Kirschner’s What kind of a History this is, what it is like and what it is not like takes as its starting point a screening she staged of Marco Ferreri’s Touche pas á la femme blanche (Don’t Touch the White Woman, 1974) at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, a stone’s throw from the LUX offices. Ferreri’s film involved restaging Custer’s Last Stand in the Les Halles area of Paris as it was being torn down; Kirschner screening drew parallels between the redevelopment of Paris in the 1960s, and the controversial make-over of Dalston in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics – via the narrative of Buffalo Bill’s horse, Brigham.

Mayling To’s rather academic Dear Tom: A Chapter founded upon common Observations in which is contained a few curious Matters was the closing episode. Divided into 20 numbered sections, we see images of notes jotted on scraps of paper as a female psychoanalyst discusses misogyny, voyeurism, the importance of fantasy, and how ‘man cannot accept himself as dice thrown out of the cup’. The end of the film reveals that each number refers to various theoretical texts, from which the narrative is comprised; footnotes to the thoughtful anthology that was ‘The Politics in the Room’.

Dan Fox is a writer and a recipient of the 2021 Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. He lives in New York, USA.