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Attention Span 2012 | Suzanne Stein

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Charles Atlas | Hail the New Puritan | Distributed by EAI | 1985-1986

It’s the 80s in post-punk London. This 87-minute “docufantasy” follows the Michael Clark dance company while they’re rehearsing New Puritans—that’s a paraphrase or direct theft of the Wikipedia entry or else the blurb at EAI.  The film is a sunrise-to-sunrise day in the life of Michael Clark and company, via a sequence of camp vignettes and staged scenarios—including a space-age crash pad where it seems the Martians are getting ready to go clubbing—interlaced with studio and full-dress rehearsals; a scripted, subtitled interview with Mark E. Smith and Brix Smith; and, as noted by AD Jameson, assless dance pants. Starring and with choreography by Michael Clark; sets and costumes by Leigh Bowery; music by The Fall. Pure Charles Atlas, with signature intercuts, still snaps, cinema vérité views and jumpy mixes. Gorgeous, mesmerizing, and seductive; virtuosity in abandon. I wandered into the media galleries at work for a ten minute break early this summer and emerged an hour and a half later, purified, like I drunk myself sober.

A clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBqi3UvYTcA

The Bhagavad Gita  

Yoga is a harmony. Not for her who eats too much, or her who eats too little; not for her who sleeps too little, or for her who sleeps too much. A harmony in eating and resting, in sleeping and keeping awake: a perfection in whatever one does.

Rudyard Kipling | Kim | Doubleday, Page & Company | 1901

Kim’s an orphaned English boy in India raised by a half-caste opium smoker and trained later as a spy, whose job it is to go into rooms and remember everything in them, to be reported upon later. Or that’s how the story was told to me, and how I told it later, although that’s not precisely what happens to Kim. It amused me no end that the story begins when Kim becomes chela (disciple) to his lama outside the gates of the “Wonder-House”—the Lahore Museum. It’s possible to read Kim as more or less a religious text, a propaganda of occult imperialism whose motivating subtext is the occult adventure of the lama on the Path, who after hundreds of pages of Kim’s thrilling pretextual escapades is allowed to tumble finally into the waters of enlightenment—only shortly to be “saved” therein, from drowning, by a Punjabi operative working for the British.

Frances Yates | The Art of Memory | Chicago | 1966

My obsession with my fantasy of the memory theater of Giulio Camillo has lasted nearly twenty years, since borrowing this book from an acquaintance with a strange-sounding name I still suspect was an anagram.

In L’idea del theatro di Giulio Camillo we were able to trace in detail the basis in the Hermetic writings of Camillo’s efforts to construct a memory theater reflecting ‘the world’, to be reflected in ‘the world’ of memory. If man’s mens is divine, then the divine organisation of the universe is within it, and an art which reproduces the divine organisation in memory will tap the powers of the cosmos, which are in man himself.

Bob Flanagan | Slave Sonnets | Cold Calm | 1986

It’s rare, it’s fierce in its abjection, it’s tender; it has a cover by Mike Kelley and I got it free in the Reading Room at the Berkeley Art Museum, in March, because Camille Roy left it there. The cover is black and white, with a herringbone pattern behind an upside-down white heart (ass, balls, whatever), and inside the heart is another heart, one of those Mexican loteria el corazon-style ventricled cartoon hearts, red, skewered from the bottom up by a huge hunting knife, and the word Love written across it in a sort of punk-gothic tattoo script. A month before, a friend—whose life changed almost every aspect of my own life—died, and on the same day, Mike Kelley died. Also that day, the person I was long-distance dating and sort of in love with, who was still sort of in love with an ex-girlfriend, called to tell me his ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend just killed himself, maybe over the girlfriend. Later that afternoon, I discovered that my long-distance boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend WAS Mike Kelley. I googled the girlfriend. She has a Mike Kelley tattoo on her chest that looks a lot like the cover of Bob Flanagan’s Slave Sonnets.

Jalal Toufic | Distracted | Tuumba | 2003

Because it is included in this list, you know that this was one of the nine most important artworks I lived with this year; why now that I am looking inside it again do I feel like I’ve never even laid my eyes on it? The relation to the past has nothing to do with memory and everything to do with telepathy. The only freshness is the untimely. Then I look at it again and find it a little irritating, or, dazzling.

Brandon Brown | The Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus | Krupskaya | 2011

 #65

The sixty-fifth poem in the corpus of Catullus is addressed to his friend Hortalus.

 The poem is in the vocative and is usually read as epistolary, a letter to accompany a translation that Catullus has made of a poem by Callimachus. This work of translation has been incredibly difficult, because there is a crisis in the life of Catullus that has made prosody frustrating.

The crisis in the life of Catullus is that his brother is lying on the beach dead in Troy and a wave licks his little pale foot.

The death of his brother has made it impossible for him to “produce the sweet fruit of the Muses.” As if prosody were a redemptive tactic against the total loss effected by death.

I find it interesting that Catullus, who remains associated with the anachronistic but persistent mode of the lyric, constructs a practice almost always including appropriation. Translation, and certainly as Catullus himself practices it, is an artwork of appropriation. And yet much contemporary translation as much as contemporary works of appropriation purport to cancel the somatic vehicle for lyric material.

That is, the conventional picture of translation, in which the translator is invisible, which excludes her body from the scene of translation, does not suggest a space in which the translator’s desire—or grief—can find any entry into the imporous mimetic activity they understand as “translation.”

The last ten lines of the Callimachus poem translated by Catullus as the 66th poem in his corpus were missing even when Catullus makes his translation.

Instead of making the loss of the text legible, Catullus inserts a brief catalogue of prayers, more in line with his own, not Callimachus’, aspirations: e.g. for concord in marriage and reciprocity in love.

The word Catullus uses for translation is expressa. An expressor is someone who presses or forces something out of something else. The word, as it pertains to translation, implies both the physical labor of the agent appropriating from the text which precedes the proceeding writing known as translation as well as a directionality characteristic of the epistemic tradition of translation and appropriation. Someone makes something out of something else.

 Again, Catullus makes an oath to the negative space once inhabited by his brother, consisting of a promise to always “love” him (in whatever figuration love of negative space can be attained). This love, however, is primarily activated by the promise to constantly write poems morte, or, “about his death.”

About. What’s he going to press out of his experience of being in love with negative space as a demonstration of his enduring love for his brother? It’s hard to say—there’s only one other poem in the whole corpus about his brother and his brother’s death. But like several poems about loathsome politicians.

We can’t know how much of his work might have been translation. We know that Catullus #51 is a translation of a poem by Sappho, and that #66 is a translation of Callimachus. In other poems he makes references to having done translations. In many of his poems something like an appropriative gesture of citation takes place, recuperating tropes from classical Greek and Hellenistic poems in order to “express” an “original” affective sentiment.

This particular translation is accomplished “despite” the fact that Catullus’s mind has been itself appropriated by profound grief.

Lawrence Rinder | Revenge of the Decorated Pigs | Publication Studio | 2009

More eso- and exo- teric sex and (art) worldly intrigue and adventure, with siblings, doubles, or twins (take your pick), disguised identities, mystical revelations, love, hermeticism, earthworks, and Ben & Jerry’s, in this roman à clef-ish tale from curator/museum director Larry Rinder. Kevin stretched and felt his muscles come alive. He wondered why he’d stopped going to yoga. “There’s nothing like getting fucked to remind you that you have a body,” he thought.

Cliff Hengst | Maybe | Live performance (part of Stage Presence at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) | Thursday, August 9 – Sunday, August 12, 2012

In fact, all of Stage Presence, both the series of performances curated by Frank Smigiel in the Tucker Nichols-designed media theater, and the exhibition entire (subtitle: Theatricality in Art and Media), curated by Rudolf Frieling, belongs on this list. It would be an endless catalogue to say all that I loved in them, but as a quick gloss: the landscape I found so compelling here is intimate fractured lyric narrative; broken, reconstituted, reinvented identity; and humor and spirituality light and black, all of these things inhabited (or tried on) in the most playful and political possible ways, from Fischli and Weiss’s existentially inflected rat and bear films, Sharon Hayes’s re-performances of the Patty Hearst tapes; Geoffrey Farmer’s exquisite magazine cut-out puppet collages; the aforementioned Charles Atlas; and so much more. Costume, mask, rehearsal, reenactment, reversal, repetition, mirroring, comedy, it’s all there.

The backdrop of the exhibition was the precisely right situation for Cliff Hengst’s reprising of a suite of short works from two decades of performances. Cliff is an artist & longtime star player in Kevin Killian’s troupe of regulars for San Francisco Poets Theater, and so is very familiar to Bay Area poets in his infinite incarnations, in some sort of drag, of hilarious Killian-esque characters (many of them without a doubt written specifically for Cliff). But many of us probably are less familiar with Cliff’s performance works, less even than with his paintings and drawings, which like the live works are also funny, unfathomable spirit-works as much as they are spot-on gestural reflections and appreciations of hi-lo culture. All the Stage Presence iterations were three-show runs; a Thursday evening followed by Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances. Cliff began each of his three shows with Ballimbo (2004): Carrying an uninflated balloon, he approached an audience member at the front of the darkened theater, leaned in close as if to whisper in her ear or kiss him, and then after a few moments stepped back and blew into the balloon a little bit, before proceeding to a next participant. When he stopped with me, I felt he was gathering up a bit of my juju, my essence, and I felt this tenderly, though not everyone seemed so comfy with his approach. When the balloon was fully inflated—with audience spirit, don’t you know—he tied it to the front of the stage and commenced the rest of that day’s performances. On Thursday evening it was Incantation to Destroy a Cultural Institution (2012), which included cow bells shaken at all corners of the stage and other curious ritualistic gestures, along with a spooky live set by Aero Mic’d (Cliff with Scott Hewicker and Wayne Smith). I wasn’t at work on the Friday and missed the Saturday series but when I returned Sunday afternoon my colleagues all said thank god Cliff was going to remove the hex, everything was going crapwire, the museum was surely about to actually collapse. (Had he only but waited another day…). Sunday’s centerpiece, for me, was Maybe (1999)—a lip-synch to The Three Degrees’ cover of the blues classic “Maybe.” The media failed three times during Cliff’s attempt to perform this piece, and with consummate grace under pressure he finally gave it up after the third try—hex incompletely dissipated? In Shout Out to All My Departed Pets (2001) he called for his pets, like anyone calls theirs home (Snooooowwwballll!), followed by the equally drawn out, “I miss you”. (All the departed pets: Porsche, Gingerbear, Snowball, Sylvester, Moses, and Texas.) The afternoon closed with Stink Bomb (2005): the artist sprays himself with a full can of drugstore-issue men’s cologne head to toe til the can is empty. That cleared the theater. Such tenderness and deep deadpan hilarity throughout!—Cliff’s signature style. Waiting for him to clean up for the party, a dozen of us went into the media gallery and sat on beanbags in the dark, watching Hail the New Puritan. And then downstairs, to drink wine and eat Chinese food and celebrate our friend in the catering kitchen after. Other works performed that day: When Life Puts That Juju on Me (2009); You Can If You Think You Can (2012); You (2004).

Cliff Hengst, Maybe: http://blog.sfmoma.org/2012/08/stage-presence-cliff-hengst/

Maybe, The Three Degrees: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1GHhDJ8uHI

Hail the New Puritan closing sequence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkGO-juzWac 

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Suzanne Stein is community producer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the author of Tout Va Bien (Displaced Press, 2012).

Suzanne Stein’s contribution to Attention Span for 201120102009. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm