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Harun Farocki, Rodney Graham
Jeu de Paume
1, place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, France
April 7, 2009 - June 7, 2009

by Frances Guerin






The latest exhibition at the Concorde site of the Jeu de Paume brings together an unlikely couple of artists, Harun Farocki and Rodney Graham. The instigator and curator, Chantal Pontbriand understands their relationship to converge on four concepts associated with technological Modernity: the Archive, the Nonverbal, the Machine and Montage. In her press introduction, she also stated that the links are not made explicit through the exhibition, but that she hopes the viewer will discover them.

To my eyes, the work of Farocki and Graham, may well engage with some similar concepts, but the two oeuvres couldn't be more different. They may be around the same age, but Farocki is everywhere the analytical intellectual prosaic filmmaker, Graham the poetic, performative North American fiction film and image maker. In keeping with his German background, Farocki has a commitment to the history and politics of images: their dissemination, interpretation, manipulation, and appropriation by the powers that be is the stuff of his images. His is a lifelong commitment to the image in history, politics and the popular imagination. Graham, however, is more focused on the history of images, imagemaking, and creating his own anachronistic, usually fictional, visions. In turn, this vision is suspended on the postmodernist surface of Graham's images, while Farocki's complex relationship to history is replicated in the fragmentation and nonlinear layering of archival, found and newly shot images (often as they are depicted within other images). And while Farocki consciously scrutinizes his own presence in the image, Graham is the (often ironic) performer at the center of a fictional world. The differences go on ad infinitum. Thus, despite being brought together behind the aegis of the four themes, under the roof of the Jeu de Paume, there is very little commonality between the two.

Nevertheless, while the exhibition might, on the one hand, fall short of its objective of creating a meaningful dialogue between two very different artistic oeuvres, on the other hand, the complete disparity between the two actually works to accentuate these differences. In turn, the differences are thrust into relief and become the focal points of each artist's work. Thus, it's an interesting conceit for an exhibition that, true to the ineffability of all good art, ends up succeeding in its failure!

FG on HF (Frances Guerin on Harun Farocki)

Those who have seen Farocki's work in projection in a cinema, may find layers in the exhibition that are obscured those who have not. Even though he projects in split two- and three- screens, the multi-channel montages--what he refers to as soft montage--are altogether more fascinating for their being seen simultaneously with other works. For example, to see Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik/Workers Leaving the Factory (1995) on eleven, successive monitor screens accentuates all of the observations made by Farocki in this 36 minute film. Farocki culls fragments from film history of well known images of workers coming and going from the factory. The Lumière Brothers' 45 second film echoes throughout 100 years of documentary and fiction film from the archive, in what Farocki refers to as the visual "dictionary" of his film. Seeing the "dictionary entries" vertically integrated in simultaneous presentation underlines the developments in our changing relationship to machine production and technological modernity as the century progresses. In juxtaposition, Giuliana's isolation as she wanders among the industrial wasteland in her green coat in Red Desert (1964) is even more haunting, and a far cry from the energy and joie de vivre of Lumieères' factory workers. The blackness of the image makes the elevator's plunge into the mine in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) more frightening, the mistreatment of Charlie Chaplin by the overseer in Modern Times even more unjust, as he tries to defend himself again and again and again thanks to Farocki's looping of the fragment. We also notice the centrality of women to factory work and its representation, and where once this work was akin to the liberation brought by the cinema, by 2000 with Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, the factory offers a world of disappointment and failed dreams. That is, it is diametrically opposed to the space of possibility of the cinema a century earlier. And so, the layers of Farocki's works - about images, films, modernity and how we see all of them - are complicated even further in their Jeu de Paume presentation.

The intellectual world often proclaims that there is no longer such a thing as reality, just images, and that reality is no more than a representation. However, Farocki's works come as a welcome revision of this blithe claim. He shows that there is indeed a reality and it is a very disturbing reality. His caveat is crucial: we only ever know reality through images because that's how it is given to us. In some of the most powerful works in this exhibition, Farocki demonstrates the frightening manipulation of images designed to fashion the way we see the world. Thus, in Deep Play 2007, we enter a room whose walls are covered in twelve screens that depict the media handling of the famous 2006 World Cup soccer final between France and Italy. The simultaneous presence of a diversity of images taken from TV, computers, simulators and CCTV cameras exposes the way our perspective on the events is manipulated by these "machines." The ultimate innovation of Farocki's installation comes via the fact that we are unable to "see" the multiple perspectives at once. We are forced to continually shift perspectives, and thus, encouraged to form our own fragmented vision of the match, and the contortions of its various broadcasts. Such invitations to "see" in a different way, from multiple, often simultaneous, perspectives are Farocki's way of re-training our otherwise obscured vision of the world.

There are many other fascinating works in the exhibition and you will want to spend a good amount of time with the videos. My personal pick was a work which takes Farocki's images to a whole other level of political comment. Immersion depicts an Iraq veteran being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder through a virtual reality immersion in the time and space of the trauma. In addition to the familiar Farocki discourses of only knowing reality through the mise-en-abîme of images that are offered us, this work is profound because the image becomes the primary agent in the process of witnessing trauma. Images are often denied this power because "they don't tell the truth" or because they "might have been manipulated" or because "we are not getting the full picture". But in Immersion, Farocki comments on the way that technological images are our only access to the reparation of our memories, and consequent emotional, psychological well-being.

Ultimately, Farocki confronts us with the fact that there is no way around it: we are always going to be bombarded with images as our access to reality. But rather than fighting this, Farocki's creation, re-presentation, dissection and reflection on the image in films become like a pedagogical exercise in how to see and understand images. And if we follow Farocki's lesson, there is hope that we will not be so duped by them.

- Frances Guerin

GF on RG (Georgia Fee on Rodney Graham)

Rodney Graham is his own image - he takes from Graham and reproduces Graham.  From dandy to bumpkin to pirate to cowboy, Graham's montage reflects the fractured self of the Lacanian vortex...self upon self upon self...spiraling endlessly from moi to je and back again.

What makes Graham's work so appealing?  Is it the play acting? The liberty with which he dons each persona and then casts it off for the next starring role?  Is it the lushness of his eye or the idiosyncratic inventions?  Or is it the fact that we recognize the source material from which he draws - clint eastwood-gene kelley-rock hudson - American TV and film - 50's, 60's, 70's.  He takes the pop in Pop Culture and brings it back around in mind-numbing endless loops that at once entertain and repulse us with their seductive siren song.

Upon entering the exhibition, we are surrounded by his Camera Obscura series (Cedars, Stanley Park (1), (5), (7)) .  We find the Tree of Life, the sustainer and enveloper, the embracer of Mother Earth whose birth canal holds the sap of life and whose children spring forth eternally, turned upside down and presented in stocky sureness as the phallus.  Strong, central and immovable - this is the law, the name of the Father.  But it is a law that has been inverted to gain power; it is this masquerade that Rodney actually wants to investigate.  From this starting point, we move through the exhibition to find that Graham takes us quickly from the phallus to the womb as over and over he builds upon the infinite loop, the spiral of the cosmos (Coruscating Cinnamon Granules, Mini Rotary Psycho Opticon). He asks us to journey from the referential to appropriation to the rupture as he shifts from the single image to the montage to the diptych; from the classical score (Parsifal, 1882-38.969.364.735 AD) to the song (How I became a Ramblin' Man), to the echo as the repetitive phrase ("bring a dinghy") that issues forth from the stranded RCMP in Loudhailer.

Graham's work is layered and rich, yet supremely consumable.  One can glide or sit, dream or concentrate within his pieces.  The work absorbs us into itself just as Graham allows his own self to be absorbed by the filmic archive.  Graham does not comment; he plays.  He does not theorize; he acts.  Pulling from history, with little differentiation between the actual and the representation, Graham creates a kaleidoscopic reality of transparency.

As I stood before The Gifted Amateur, Nov., 10th, 1962, and pointed out to Frances all of the books and objects in Graham's image that were actually in our living room at home when I was a child, I was transported back to the scene of my childhood.  I felt like a wanderer coming home after years of having been away. It was a sweet homecoming.  And like Rodney, my father went from cowboy to musician to gifted amateur in an endless montage of personality.

While at the preview for the opening of the exhibition, Graham told Frances and me that he had built the set for The Gifted Amateur "like a Neutra" and then he had searched for all the objects that have been carefully placed within the scene.  Based upon the fact that Morris Louis's studio was located in his own home, Graham places the locus of high-modern abstraction in the domestic setting and then he ruptures the narrative into multiple frames further fracturing the myth of authenticity.  I was captivated by the endless breaks and plays that run through this piece.  And rather than being left with that existential emptiness of the simulation, Graham provides us with the ameliorating experience of having been there, done that, and come out of the time machine in happy reverie.

In reminiscing about the exhibition, I realized that Graham and I are twins of a kind, somehow forged by the same fire of mediated message.  And, like Graham seems to imply, the going back and around like the film whirring through the giant projectors that steal center place in his Loudhailer installation, we are lulled by the montage of  thousands upon thousands of images that stream past us day in and day out, no longer distinguishing between the real and the reflection, the public and the private, the genius and the amateur.  It's all a kick in the pants!  Action, lights, camera...

- Georgia Fee

(Images top-bottom; Harun Farocki, Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik in elf Jahrzehnten [Sorties d'usine en onze décennies / Workers Leaving the Factory in Eleven Decades], 2006, installation, 12 monitors, Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzbourg, @ Harun Farocki; Harun Farocki, Deep Play, 2007, installation, multi projections, Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Salzbourg, @Harun Farocki; Harun Farocki, Immersion, 2009, installation with double projection, Courtesy Galerie thaddaeus Ropac Salzbourg @ Harun Farocki;  Rodney Graham, Mini Rotary Psycho Opticon, mixed-media installtion, @Galerie Rudiger Schottle @Rodney Graham; Rodney Graham, Loudhailer, 2003, 2 projections, 35 mm film, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zurich and London @Rodney Graham; Rodney Graham, The Gifted Amateur, Nov. 10th, 1962, 2007, lightbox installation, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zurich and London @Rodney Graham)

Posted by Frances Guerin on 4/27/09 | tags: photography conceptual video-art

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