٠ Gaspar Noë’s appropriation of Paul Sharits’ or the love for ‘formal processes and psychedelic modifications’ ٠

“[…] What I am calling “vulgar appropriationism” is this: the way in which pop/commercial media today often appropriate formal structures from more-or-less “high art,” or even avant-garde art, of the 20th century, and use them in ways that negates the aesthetic or conceptual radicality of those structures.

Another example is Gaspar Noë’s recent video for Animal Collective’s “Applesauce”. This video appropriates its background from Paul Sharits’ 1968 “flicker film” N:O:T:H:I:N:G. […] As it says on the youtube page: “N:O:T:H:I:N:G is a film being deplenished of all, of any signified stance and involved only in the manner of film itself. Just the drawing of a bulb, the projector light and a chair remain in the space of the screen. But these are just random disruptions of monochrome frames.” Or elsewhere: “Sharits’ works reduce the process of filmmaking to its most basic components – the projector, the filmstrip, light and duration.”

Even though Gaspar Noë is himself evidently interested in formal processes and psychedelic modifications of the sensorium, from a high modernist viewpoint you could only say that he has destroyed the essence of Sharits’ work. Not only has he turned it into video, but he has used it as the background against which we see the silhouette of a female figure, in extreme closeup, eating a mango (I think; eating a mango comes up in the lyrics to the song, and it sort of looks juicy like a mango, but it is not possible to tell for sure). Now, the shadowy figure is extremely sensuous, as we do sort of see her lips, and the bites she takes, and the juice dripping from the fruit. Noë instructs viewers to watch the video in otherwise total darkness; so it is fair to say that he seeks to provide for digital/electronic media, an ecstatic equivalent to the effect on Sharits’ film in its older medium. Nonetheless, I still think that we have to say that Noë has eliminated the self-reflexivity, the materialist rigor, and the conceptual lucidity of Sharits’ work; he has replaced a Kantian (or Clement-Greenburgian) purity with an aesthetics of hedonism, and has denatured the meditative essence of Sharits’ film by reintroducing those very elements of moviemaking (the human figure against a background, an implicit narrative, a sense of representation) that Sharits had taken such effort to get rid of. (Not to mention that, as a music video, we have a soundtrack that is a pre-existing song; as opposed to the silence of the Sharits film — even though the latter supposedly gives a visual equivalent of a Buddhist prayer drone)

In any case, the point I am building to is this: I vastly prefer Noë’s work to Sharits’, just as I do Kahn’s to Tunick’s, precisely because these recent music videos are hedonistic, impure, unrigorous, and filled with the figurative and representational content that high modernism sought to get rid of — in short, I like these appropriations precisely because they are “vulgar.” They present themselves as part of the everyday world that high modernism took such pains to separate itself from; they have none of the negativity that Adorno demanded of art in a capitalist, commodified age. The only claims that I can make for them politically are ones that occur on the level of content (e.g. Kahn and Minogue are evidently supporting equal rights for gays and lesbians). Nonetheless, I think it is highly significant that music videos like these (and I think there are many other similarly interesting works) are engaging in formal invention without such invention implying either self-referentiality, or negativity, or a purist rejection of “mere” content or “mere” representation. I’d like to say that these works are (finally) escaping from the prison of sublime modernist aesthetics; they no longer seek to maintain modernism’s self-proclaimed distance from the “Real.” They embody a new sort of immanence, or actualism.

excerpt from a text by Steven Shaviro about what he calls “vulgar appropriationism” in The Pinocchio Theory.

sharits1© Paul Sharits, Study for Frozen Film Frame of “Frame Study 15” (1975)

┐ Eric Rondepierre └

couplepassant© Eric Rondepierre, Couple, passant, 1996-98

confidence© Eric Rondepierre, Confidence, 1996-98

levoyeur© Eric Rondepierre, Le Voyeur, 1996-98

“That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.

Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.                          

In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».

What strikes me most in all this is the principle of texture-filters which seems to me to operate in Rondepierre’s artistic strategy like Freud’s memory screen. It is a question of masks and shifts, in which the accumulated density of textures only reflects downstream the work that the spot principle has already performed upstream : burying and excavating part of what is invisible (part of the unconscious). Just as the concept of photograms revealed by freezeframes can be interpreted as a figure of the revelation of film’s unconscious. Photography and cinema are merely spots and textures. Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychicphotographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.

And in this lies one of the possible dimensions of his work – it operates precisely like a psychic apparatus, maybe like Freud’s famous little Wunderblock the « magic notepad » which in 1925 Freud used as the ideal metaphor for the workings of the first topic of the unconscious : a question of levels, of transparent surface area upon which one writes, and a background layer on which the inscriptions are preserved in absentia even when the have been erased from the surface. Photography is the top surface, cinema the background dephts and writing the displaced entity. The « Wunderblock » shifts from one to the other, a link, like the photogram which relates photography to cinema. The deep spot (the invisible, the inconscious, the buried object, the lost text) and the texture which brings it to the surface, visible and conscious (the layered pathway to visibility). Coming and going. Directly or mediated. And starting again from the beginning.”

excerpt of Eric Rondepierre or working with photograms (between spot and texture) by Philippe Dubois in “Eric Rondepierre”, ed. Espace Jules Verne/ Galerie Michèle Chomette, Paris, 1993, pp. 28-35. FULL TEXT here

more of Eric’s work here

┐ Alexander Gehring └

@ Alexander Gehring, Untitled, from the series Messages from the Darkroom

@ Alexander Gehring, Untitled, from the series Messages from the Darkroom

The photographic series Messages from the Darkroom investigates the connection between photography and the occult. Based on historical photographs published by early twentieth century parapsychologist Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, Messages from the Darkroom enquires the ability of the photographic camera to capture magical or paranormal phenomena.
Schrenck-Notzing, like many other scientists in this era of technical revolutions, when modern media began to make their first steps, was interested in occult phenomenona like mediumship and the physical exposures human trance-mediums were said to be able to produce. By using a photographic camera he tried to give a solid proof for the occult phenomenons to be part of reality. He believed in the objectivity of the photographic image and its technique which allowed him to exclude any doubt or suspicion of human fraud. What we see as the result of his photographic experiments are rather obscure than illuminative images which are unique in the history of photography.
Messages from the Darkroom uses this ambivalent imagery of Schrenck-Notzing‘s historical photographs to ask if photography is sensitive enough to record supernatural phenomena. Between the desire to expose the supernatural and the acceptance of the technical impossibility to capture it, the work opens up a space of eventualities where analogies between the photographic technique and occult practices get visible: The darkroom turns into the séance-room just like the photocamera becomes the medium in trance. Eventually, the photographic technique, generally understood as a means of objectively capturing reality, is shown in a different light: it seems that during the photographic séance the camera reveals its own magical aura.

The work is divided into three parts: One reproduction of an image taken from Schrenck Notzings’s book ‘Materialisations-phänomene’ from 1914, a series of pictures from the darkroom and a series of pictures from caves. Together they represent three ‘dark rooms’, rooms hidden from the public eye, where people try to face a transcendental experience.

More of Alexander’s work here

┐ Michal Heiman └


Michal Heiman chose the position of the spectator looking at someone else’s photographs taken by someone else, in which someone else is photographed, which someone else collected. Heiman turns this quintessential position of spectator (in a museum, but not only) into her own, elaboration and giving it back to it to spectator, whom she transforms not only into the subject of the artistic image but also into the subject of the psychological image. This is the spectator who is asked, on several levels, to assume Heiman’s position and to reproduce it. When Heiman looks at these photographs of her mother-in-law, she is following classifications which are latent in the family album, acting within the framework of the restrictions and advantages of her family relations with the photographed (her mother-in-law), attuned to the route she traced on her meticulously planned journeys as well as in random rambles. Though Heiman does this without relinquishing essential activities of the subject’s position, such as sorting, selecting, classifying, etc, she performs these activities as an accumulative sum of activities familiar from two institutions and practices – the musial and the psychological. The images she presents to the “subject” of her “test” are mediated through these two institution/ practices. They are presented in a “test” box by an “examiner”, who also duplicates Heiman’s positioning, obviously without the possibility of identity between the two of them, between them and the photographed, or between them and the “subject” of the “test”. These relations of similarity and difference between the personae/ positions dissolve the established hierarchical relations which institutions/ practices such as the museum and the psychology apparatus seek to preserve, and point to their fluidity. Heiman is attracted to these two systems, seduced by one and functioning within the other, but at the same time she criticizes them, especially by turning one against the other. She bypasses the museal apparatus by way of the psychological apparatus. Within the framework f the museum institution she develops exchange relations borrowed from the psychological apparatus, rather than those practiced in the museum I which the boundaries of the subject are predetermined by the way he or she is placed in front of the artistic object. The relations of replacement that Heiman proposes are those existing in the psychoanalytical situation, with one crucial difference: they are not continuous in time, and the analyst cannot gain knowledge relating to the analysand and take an active part in subjectivizing her. Thus the therapeutic situation is divested of its characteristic power relations. The activating of the general patterns of the structure of the therapeutic situation in a museum setting through the “test” mode of the M.H.T., provides an opportunity to disrupt the museum order. This order is based on complex relations of silence, both on the part of the museum object and on the part of the museum subject, and on the distinction between the different subject of art – -the artist and the spectator. The museum spectator is invited to induce the mute object to speak, but only later, and outside the boundaries of the site. Heiman’s spectator is invited to induce the scene to speak at the site itself. The existence of the images Heiman offers for viewing and voicing violates the standard norms of presentation, and serves as a point of departure for unexpected encounters with conveyor of parallel, contradictory, other images, encounters in which she finds herself being led no less than leading.

Michal Heiman’s “test” is intended for women. It suggests that they look at a number of pictures of a woman-a mother figure and her own mother-in-law – and a few pictures of women who were inscribed in a history which is not only theirs. The first photographed figure is like a magnified stereotype of the (Jewish) mother figure. She is more (and less) than a citizen of the (Jewish) state. She doesn’t tour like a tourist, looking rather like the proprietress who comes to collect the rent or to be nice to the tenants and improve their conditions of living. She embodies much of what is repressed in that State, and precisely the close relationship to her presents an opportunity to take a straight look and see how it “really” looks. How the overbearingness, excessiveness, and unusefulness of this figure looks. She has herself photographed incessantly, in any place, on any occasion. She is always ready with the camera “just in case”- this may be the decisive moment, so she had better have proofs, evidence, in her hands. For one mustn’t let destiny rule the world alone. Together with her, in the same box, there are seven other women. These are women whose “decisive moment” indeed caught up with them. Each of them experienced a “crucial” moment, performed an act, and this actually justified a portrait, an image, an immortalization, but there was no camera to immortalize the moment. The portrait that they bequeathed is thus a portrait which does not bear witness to the incisive moment but keeps manifesting the decisive relation between them and the social order they disturbed and whose rules they sought to suspend. It thus constitutes a double portrait- a portrait of them and of the social order they challenged. The first one is of the three (surviving) quintuplets the Dionne sister, who having been put on public display as children together with their two other sisters, eventually broke the silence to bring this glaring abuse of a child’s body to light (and to claim damages for themselves). The second is of Ulrike Meinhof, leader of the Baader Meinhof group, from whose portrait it is always possible to revert to the boundaries of the rules of the game of the democratic state, a game in which everything is negotiable, except the rules of the game and so allowing the exclusion o any player attempting to put those rules I question. The third photograph is of Leila Khaled, the Palestinian freedom fighter who became famous for skyjacking in which she was involved. Khaled expropriated the time of the flight passengers to point to the time and the place of which her people, the Palestinian people, had been robbed. The fourth portrait, of Eva Hesse, an artist who put her body in the center of her art long before the artistic discourse could have contained such a manifestation, evidenced an apparatus saturated with violence and the tensions between an individual, a body, and a position from which to see, speak out, and act, and the last portrait, of Kochava Levy, who found herself in a hotel that was occupied by terrorists, and masterfully played – with her unprecedented feat of conducting negotiations with the terrorists – the role assigned to her by history.

(Dr. Ariella Azoulay, D’Israel: Barry Frydlender, Michal Heiman, Efrat Shvily, and Dana & Boaz Zonshine, Le Qartier, Center of Contemporary Art, Quimper, 1999 [pp. 33-34] )

More of Michal’s work here

┐ William Miller └

@ William Miller, NRuined Polaroid #45

@ William Miller, Ruined Polaroid #50

“I think think that this project was more of a realization than an idea. I bought this old Polaroid SX-70 camera at a yard sale two summers ago. Right away I realized the camera wasn’t functioning properly. It sometimes spilled out 2 pictures at a time and the film would often get stuck in the gears, exposing and mangling it in unpredictable ways.

It turned out the camera just couldn’t produce good photos, but that’s when Miller had an idea to work with that. “Before long I was participating in its process, collaborating with it,” he says.

Ruined Polaroids is the series that emerges, a series of, well, ruined Polaroids that have lovely abstract colors and textures that paint a subtle aesthetic. The results are unpredictable, but Miller harnesses that into foreign landscapes and abstractions. It’s a great way to remix an a nonfunctioning analogue tool and to find a new function: art.

“What I find most appealing with the Ruined Polaroids project,” he said, “is that in this age of digital photography I’m taking this technology from the 70s and through a process making it look like paintings from the 40s.”

excerpt from article by An Xiao taken from Hyperallergic

More of Miller’s work here

┐ Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs └

@ Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, untitled, from the seriesLight of other days, 2009


@ Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs, untitled, from the seriesLight of other days, 2009


In “End of an Era” Onorato and Krebs continue to explore the nature of perception, a theme that also distinguishes their most well-known photographic series to date, “The Great Unreal,” produced during their travels through the US. Their illusionistic visual universes and installations thrive on the interplay between the visible and invisible nature of illusion and the encounter of reality and the imagination.
The exhibited photographs and installations reflect the ambivalent role of photography on one hand as a documentary medium used to depict reality and on the other hand as an artistic instrument for the creation of new, dream-like imaginary worlds. The exhibition title “End of an Era” refers to the value of analogue image production, the end of which is constantly being prophesied, particularly since the demise of the pioneer of photography, Kodak.(…)

from here

Their work, very much worth exploring, can be found here

┐ Noel Rodo-Vankeulen └

@ Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, hood, from the series Flower City (work in progress)

@ Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, gray, from the series Flower City (work in progress)

@ Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, twin, from the series Flower City (work in progress)

In Flower City I’m focusing on the area where I live (Brampton, Ontario), a relative nowhere city transformed by a failed greenhouse industry, as a stand in for photographic experience. I’m really interested in how the medium functions as both art and photography, specifically how these two distinct aspects of a greater whole can alter and mediate what we see.
For the whole series I’ve worked with a large format camera and shot everything on black and white film, making the body of work a cryptic play not only on the ambiguous nature of photography itself, but showing the medium’s specific nature of looking. There is something archaic in using a 4×5 camera and how it can render basic and minimal compositions of people, places and objects as almost alien or distanced. In this respect I’ve specifically chosen to photograph subjects that range the gamut from quasi-exotic to the completely mundane. I’m interested in how these two extremes can have the same presence and become almost mythologized or iconic.

excerpt from Mossless magazine

More of Noel’s work here

┐ Elise Victoria Louise Windsor └

@ Elise Victoria Louise Windsor, untitled, from the series mise en abyme

@ Elise Victoria Louise Windsor, untitled, from the series mise en abyme

“A champion of minimalism, visual artist Elise Windsor creates optical illusions that truly captivate the eye. Her three bodies of work leave you wondering: “How did she do that?” Without breaking any vows of secrecy (she’s an artist, dammit, not a magician) Elise reveals that all of her photographs are manipulated on-site: the result of origami, sculptures and mirrors.


With me it’s all about in-camera versus digital manipulation. So all of the shots with mirrors I didn’t have to Photoshop the camera out. That’s just how I set it up and that’s how it’s meant to be viewed. Before I used to be super rigid, like I thought “Okay, I need to read this kind of paper, I need to go to the library, I need to do all these things”. But then I realized that it’s good to sort of work organically as well. Sometimes my intention doesn’t come through but I’ll still get a photo that I really love. I always have some sort of idea so that everything I do is constructed.”

by Layton Wu, in OTM zine

More of Elise’s work here

┐ Melinda Gibson └

© Melinda Gibson, from the project Photography as contemporary art, 2011

© Melinda Gibson, from the project Photography as contemporary art, 2011

If Melinda Gibson’s photomontages look familiar, don’t be surprised. A flash of Ed Burtynsky here, a slice of Juergen Teller there, they are all made up of elements of some of the major works of the 1990s and 2000s, culled from the pages of The Photograph As Contemporary Art. Written and edited by Charlotte Cotton (former curator at the V&A and LACMA, and now creative director of the UK’s National Media Museum), it is one of the key texts for students starting out in photographic education. Which is precisely why the 26-year-old, who graduated from London College of Communication in 2006 and is now a visiting lecturer herself, chose to use it.

“I wanted to produce a body of work that was original – unique pieces unable to be reproduced – which in turn commented on the availability of photography in our heightened digitalised age. I also wanted to provoke questions about copyright and ownership through the re-appropriation of imagery. What is important to me is questioning the medium and the conventions that surround it, examining these and suggesting other ways to view them.”
Using just a scalpel, an adhesive and “a lot of patience”, she took the book apart (…)

But, as she has already hinted, there’s another, more critical purpose to the work, in particular the way such books serve to canonise particular photographers and images. “What I find frustrating is that the same images appear and re-appear every year at [educational] institutions. As you wonder through the different degree shows, you feel as though you have seen it all before – just modern takes on Martin Parr, Stephen Shore or Nan Goldin. What crossed my mind was whether these institutions are to blame for this, or whether it is truly impossible to produce something new. In my view, the canonisation of such sources acts as a hindrance to creativity, where people feel they have to produce something similar to be accepted or understood.”

in British Journal of Photography. Continue reading

Melinda’s blog here

┐ Clare Strand └

© Clare Strand, Signs of Struggle, 2003

© Clare Strand, Signs of Struggle, 2003

AFH: Is photography primarily an expressive tool for you?

CS: Photography clearly has an important role in my work but its application is determined by my subject matter. If you look back on my work, I have no one photographic style. I tend to manipulate the process to directly respond to the subject. Throughout my work I have appropriated existing photographic conventions to suit and embellish the subject. The majority of the conventions that I ‘borrow’ are sourced from the utilitarian applications of photography.

AFH: Do you start with a specific narrative or are you drawn to atmosphere and then later construct possible stories to explain or contextualise your images?

CS: When I start to make work it is totally subject driven and then I look around to see what business photography has with it – it never happens the other way round. Narratives sometimes emerge as part of this process, but they are always a bi-product, never a starting concern. My passion for photography is driven by utilitarian photography, which, in my opinion, is the source of some of the most visually rich photographic imagery – at its best offering baffling yet compelling visual-narrative possibilities. The appropriation of the utilitarian is evident through out my photography – in the conventions of 19th-century street/city portraiture shown in ‘Gone Astray’, and in the forensic applications in ‘Signs of a Struggle’; from the constructs of industrial Time and Motion photography in ‘The Betterment Room’ – Devices For Measuring Achievement’ to, most recently, the Aura photograph of the paranormal/spiritualist. This template of subject matter dictating photographic application continues throughout my work.

excerpt from Clare Strand’s interview with Ana Finel Honigman

Clare’s work here and much more information on her projects can easily be found online.