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Materials for mediation

 

Text by Matteo Pini

 

Art production seems hesitant to move very far away from life. Immediacy, presupposing an always-on, “it is what it is” sensibility, results in artworks that struggle to imagine beyond daily reality. Endless surface without disruption invites inertia, but a retreat into historicism and distance – as seen in analogous “slow” food and fashion trends – struggles to compete with immediacy’s totalised sensory engagement. A new paradigm is required, recognising the capacities of art to represent life not just in a mimetic sense, but as a point of expansion and contemplation. In the works highlighted here, doubt, ambiguity, obliqueness and anti-formalism take centre stage, rejecting the assumption of a singular audience or intended response.

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POST TENEBRAS LUX

dir. Carlos Reygadas

2012

 

Employing a distorting filter over the camera lens, Carlos Reygadas’s elliptical drama pushes the “reality” of the film-image into a perpetual state of uncertainty. The viewing experience is similar to that of a stroll through an art gallery, in which each new image becomes a process of discovery, relation and accumulation.

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WORLD OF ECHO

Arthur Russell

1986

 

Exploring the full acoustic spectrum of the cello, from zither-like shreds to deep, bassy thuds, Arthur Russell’s album World of Echo sounds as though it is playing from inside the subconscious of the Western musical canon. It is an album of flow, of the entropic push-and-pull of the natural world that Russell mirrors with his instrument.

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I-BE AREA

dir. Ryan Trecartin

2007

 

Communicating with accelerated reality-TV verbosity and painted in flamboyant neon makeup, the characters in Ryan Trecartin’s I-Be Area grapple with a hyperlinked era. In an interview around its completion, Trecartin said, “What identifies people is not necessarily their bodies anymore; it’s all the relationships they maintain with others. You are your area, rather than you are yourself.”

Headless Woman

THE HEADLESS WOMAN

dir. Lucrecia Martel

2008

 

In The Headless Woman, the protagonist Veró drifts into a catatonic state after becoming convinced she has killed a child. An allegory for los desaparecidos, the state-sanctioned “disappearance” of as many as 30,000 leftist citizens during Argentina’s Dirty War, the film is about what we choose not to see, and the reciprocal impacts of ignorance on all segments of society.

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IN VANDA’S ROOM

dir. Pedro Costa

2000

 

Pedro Costa’s three-hour docudrama explores precarity in a world that increasingly denies physical space for it. The film centres on Vanda and her neighbours as they smoke heroin and converse, while their neighbourhood Fontainhas is slowly demolished. The work’s moments of Vermeer-esque beauty are all the more remarkable for how they are integrated within a critique of neoliberalism’s degradation of beauty itself. 

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SPEEDBOAT

Renata Adler

1976

 

Ostensibly about Jen, a journalist living in New York, the Modernist style of Speedboat delves into the inescapable nature of interdependence and literature’s failure to reflect life as it is lived. As Adler notes, “Every love story, every commercial trade, every secret, every matter in which trust is involved, is a gentle transaction of hostages. Everything is, to a degree, in the custody of every other thing.”

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BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT

Copeland

2014

 

In a subversion of the confessional female songwriter idiom, Copeland’s dank, disorienting album actively discourages identification. The featureless album cover, somewhere between a passport photo and a mugshot, calls into question who is conferring worth and even who the “I” in question is supposed to be.

Family Tyranny

FAMILY TYRANNY

Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley

1987

 

In Family Tyranny, a character styled on the fathers of 1980s sitcoms forces handfuls of a mayonnaise-like substance into a hollowed-out melon. The semiotic abstraction of the image conjures a different, more insidious kind of horror than that of its grotesque immediate representation. It is what it isn’t. ◉