Monte Clark Gallery’s ‘Traces That Resemble Us’, features works by twelve prominent Vancouver artists who are also screening films in conjunction with the show at The Cinematheque. ‘Traces That Resemble Us’ invites the viewer to have a new relationship with the artist and artwork in film. As with any art form, we often only see the finished work although an invisible bubble of influence and idea surround it. By inviting the viewer to have access to a small part of the artist’s praxis, we gain a new perspective and understand their intent on a deeper level. 01 Magazine recently interviewed one of the twelve artists, Robert Arndt who will be screening Robert Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket in relation to his own work ‘Scenes Unseen’ on December 17th. Arndt’s new short film ‘Pursuit, Plunder & Fleece‘ will precede the screening.
The piece ‘Pursuit, Plunder & Fleece’ leads the viewer through various scenarios of objects that have been stolen: a small dog, clarinet, tools, carving knives, a car, bicycle saddle and finally a record collection. Arndt forces the viewer to be with these items for several minutes. As our perception shifts — through our memories and experiences — we convince ourselves we couldn’t live without these objects. For example, the undervalued clarinet is transformed into a symphony of bad circumstances, carving knives take on a strange violence and a bicycle seat becomes a rare fossil of the 21st century.
Arndt’s work speaks for itself in its complexity as multiple layers of realized ideas easily sit amongst each other. I recently read a quote from author Peter Matthiessen that seemed to sum up Scenes Unseen; “the world appears to be a complicated tissue of events, in which connections of different kinds alternate or overlap or combine and thereby determine the texture of the whole.”
Traces That Resemble Us will be up until January 30th at Monte Clark Gallery.
Check out the interview we did with Robert Arndt prior to his screening at The Cinematheque this Thursday:
(Sound of footsteps)
(Opening of door)
Ami: Traces That Resemble Us is unique in that it invites the viewer to become a part of the collaboration between The Cinematheque and Monte Clark Gallery. What was your experience like with having the ability to show a film that was influential to you? Why did you choose Pickpocket?
(crowd hum) V.O.: Would I be as bold and cool as the occasion required?
Robert: It was quite difficult to choose a film that was an influence, there are many I could name such as ‘The Big Lebowski’ for the absurdity alone. On that note, Theatre of the Absurd continues to be a strong influence on my thinking and execution of works. Pickpocket wasn’t my first choice, I was trying to get the film Uzak by Nuri Bilge Celan screened but The Cinematheque couldn’t get the rights to show it. Over the past years Eastern European cinema has been an interest to me and I would say an influence on my thinking about my moving-image works although this won’t be seen in ‘Pursuit, Plunder and Fleece’.
As for the screening of ‘Pickpocket’, I would speculate that a lot of people have already seen it as it is a part of the cannon of films to watch by Bresson. I would hope that people would want to see the film in a proper context as opposed to viewing it on a laptop or TV screen. I don’t think film was ever imagined to be viewed like this and it annoys me that we accept this as a default way of viewing. There is no way you can appreciate a truly cinematic film on a 11×14″ screen. In my mind this is comparable to encountering artwork through documentation in books, magazines, and online, it fails the work all the time- film should be no different.
(Footsteps in the hallway)
(Sound of the door being pushed opened)
Returning to the choice of ‘Pickpocket’, the film has registered with me for many reasons; the use of non-actors, non-expressionist performances, camera work, editing and use of close-up shots of hands being choreographed to show the techniques of pickpocketing. There is a defining economy of means in order to portray this Dostevosky style story of transcendence and it sets the stage for the French New Wave. At the beginning and end of my work in ‘Pursuit, Plunder & Fleece’ there is a sequence of shots of hands that relates to the obvious mechanics and instruments used in stealing. This sets up my film and is probably the most observable influence of ‘Pickpocket’, this and the poster design by Hans Hillmann. It’s mostly linked thematically by the subject of theft, but after that there is little in the way of explicit influence and could be suggested to be the polar opposite. An influence doesn’t have to be a literal translation in order to leave an affect on your work, sometimes it may inform you of what not to do. Anyway, I was interested in telling a story that was akin to my ongoing interest in the dialogue and style used in commercial advertising of the 60’s and 70’s, but I wanted to displace this by telling a story that was about sentimental attachments; greed, betrayal, stealing, hijacking, love, hope, desire, bewilderment and finally acceptance. I started out by researching court-documented testimonials about stolen objects and after my collected notes and other source material I wrote a script that reveals some of the multifaceted consequences of capitalism.
Can you tell us more about the images you used in ‘Scenes Unseen’?
V.O.: I was famished. I’d scarcely eaten in two days.
The images, unpublished book and prop on view at the Monte Clark Gallery are not related to my screening choice with exception to one. All these works are outtakes, cancelled projects, stills, references and character studies. I thought it would be interesting to show what has been left on my “cutting room floor”.
On the far left you see an outtake of my work that I shot in 2006 titled ‘Existing the Picture Left’. I must have taken at least 100 photographs (film) in order to get the shot I wanted and this mostly had to do with how the camera was set-up for each shot. However, the one outtake or attempt I’m showing always intrigued me, and this is why I’m showing it at this time, it’s a sneak peek. As well, there is an unpublished book that I completed in 2009 titled ‘It Was Like a Film’ which includes collected quotes that I had sourced from reading the news and other publications. It’s 120 pages, the typical length of a feature film and uses quotes from people who describe events in their lives in terms of “it was like a film…” for example, “Just as I was about to take the first pill, she barged in and told me not to take it…it was like a film. I just wish I wasn’t in it. ”
It’s a good read.
Traces That Resemble Us addresses the relationship between film and contemporary art within Vancouver, what is your relationship with the two mediums?
(Footsteps of passengers coming onto platform)
Film has been an influence and source for many artists and this can be seen quite readily outside of the context of Vancouver. Tactia Dean and Douglas Gordon are noted for this, Dean exclusively works with film and she has made work on and about film. In my observation it’s not about an exhaustive analogue vs digital debate, it’s a specific choice by artists and one either is infatuated with this or gets on with producing compelling works.
V.O.: I thought I saw a glimmer of mockery.
Early on as a student I was only ever interested in shooting on film and I have only shot one work on 16mm back in 2000 but I have never viewed the footage. It was lost for about 10 years at a local lab but I have it back now and refuse to view it, I’m more interested in what I think I shot versus the actual results. Film has the ability to tell the “truth” in terms that may not be well received; in this case I prefer what I believe to be the illusion of that truth. It could be stated that this may very well be the most cinematic process I’ve completed to date and I’m waiting for the right context to show this work, but even when I show it I won’t ever view the film. I’m going to have someone else produce the work and I will only ask that I am told how the film turned out, this is storytelling in its most basic form.
I will share one example of my direct relationship with cinema and its prevalence on my works of art. Back in 2006 I became quite obsessive over the famous traffic accident sequence in Godard’s ‘The Weekend’. I had set this sequence on loop on my DVD player and had it playing all the time. There was something about what this shot represented to me that went beyond what Godard may have intended. It was at this time I developed my first preliminary sketches of my ongoing work ‘A Line Meant in Passing’. Originally it was to be shot on a 100′ table in a single take and it was to be done with real objects sourced by me. However, I received a production quote and it was estimated at $100,000,00 to produce. I knew the work would never be realized and it depressed me but I’m not one to fold my cards. Later on I started doing tests on the computer with photographs that I had sourced for reference and from my own collection. My initial tests proved to be successful and in the end it turned out to be a far more compelling work than what I had previously imagined. I continue to work on ‘A Line Meant in Passing’ to this day as I have plans for its final and collected staging.
V.O.: My footsteps led me back here.
V.O.: I didn’t know what was happening to me. I wanted to speak but could not.
Boris Groys wrote an essay about film in the museum setting, he suggests that art differs from film in that art has the ability to “remain identical throughout the time of absence of the viewer and is available for repeated viewing.” Do you find it challenging to work in film because the viewer doesn’t always have the choice to come back to the piece?
V.O.: During the days that followed I stayed in my room – out of an instinctive sense of caution, perhaps – going out only for noon and evening meals.
I believe you are referring to Boris Groys essay, Media Arts in the Museum? He talks about “stealing the autonomy” of the viewer through the introduction of film in the museum and how this conflict between “a visit to a movie-theatre and a visit to a museum and puts the viewer of the installation in state of doubt and helplessness.” He also talks about how film leaves the viewer in a passive state and how this replaces “the movement of thought and language in the viewer.” On this later point I’m quite aware of the passivity of the medium and Bertolt Brecht knew this well for his plays and operas. I find the estrangement effect he developed quite useful but it could be stated that it’s now accepted as just a “special effect” but I feel it still interrupts or awakens the viewer from passivity.
(Sound of the door being pushed opened)
I have always found it of interest in knowing at what point the viewer enters the work. This point of entry becomes the start of the film and ends at the point before entry. In a way this dictates the narrative but viewers will figure out what the intended logic is. When you consider conventional narrative and how the entry point of viewing potentially displaces narrative by means of where the beginning starts, where it ends. This may mean I have to make every frame captivating enough for the viewer to want to stay but at the same time there are works that will run all day and you can leave at any point. However, as Groys has pointed out “All of a sudden the visitor to the museum is in a position that looks like life outside the museum, like a situation that is known to him as always missing everything important. In so-called real life one always has the feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Groys goes on about how the movie-theatre leaves you immobile and how you lose your autonomy whereas in the gallery you choose to leave, stay or pick up from when you left. If you decide, we are always encountering and re-encountering events and culture; with this we acquire new readings.
To date, I try and keep my works under 10 minutes and Groys even talks about this in terms of “short durational works” ‘Pursuit, Plunder & Fleece’ is set at 12:28 minutes after cutting multiple scenes. I felt it was becoming superfluous and it’s one of the reasons why I didn’t release ‘Pursuit, Plunder & Fleece’ until now. I shot it in 2011, produced and edited a version that I wasn’t content with and thought I was never going to show it but I eventually did two pick up shots that solidified the work for me. As for the viewer not being able to return compared to the traditional expectations of viewing static art works, I would say now more than ever that film/video and installation works challenge this expectancy of the viewer and the duration of contemplation, after all, it’s the 21st century.
(Slamming of door)
(Opening of door)
(Slamming of door)
V.O.: That minute left me an unforgettable memory.
**Script notes taken from Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket**