Marianna Ellenberg
MA Fine Art Media
September 10, 2005
Advisor: Amna Malek


The Acousmatic Landscape of Steve Reinke’s Video Essays
(or aural and bodily fissure in the digital age)


De-Acousmatization of the I-Voice and the Contemporary Video Essay

In this paper, I will examine the presence of Michel Chion’s acousmatic I-voice (disembodied voice over) within the landscape of the contemporary video essay, a hybrid genre that exists somewhere between self-reflexive documentary practice and video art. The embodiment of Chion’s acousmatic I-voice is a trope of the contemporary self-reflexive media practice, whose premise is examining knowledge-power based systems of representation. The discourse of the acousmêtre has been derived out of Chion’s psychoanalytic /structural analysis of psychological thrillers such as Psycho or 2001, yet the depth of his critique and the implications for the role of the spectator has relevance to a range of media practices, from industrial to ‘underground’. I will investigate aspects of the voice through the writings of Mary Anne Doane and Kaja Silverman, who alongside Chion, have thoroughly mapped the politics and devices of the voice in illusionistic cinema. Reading the disembodied voice of the video essay through the language of semiotic film theory, provides a glance into how various analytical approaches collide in the hybridity of contemporary media practice. These feminist theorists have situated the voice as the master puppeteer of illusionistic cinema, invisibly controlling the thoughts of its audience. Yet the video essay takes into account a more dynamic model of consumption ,one drawing from cultural studies rather than Lacanian analysis. Much of the writing on the voice is embedded in this pre-digital psychoanalytic practice, thus to explore the usage of the voice-over and the voice itself in the video essay requires a multi-faceted approach—drawing from Doane’s and Chion’s analysis of the voice as well as the cultural studies/post structural approaches of theorists and filmmakers, including Catherine Russell and Ursula Bieman, who both champion hybrid approaches to media work, including experimental ethnography and the video essay.

The discourse of the omnipotent, acousmatic voice and the discourse of passive spectator of the spectacle of cinema are wrapped up within each other. New modes of cinematic practice and video work open a more playful and engaged position for the viewer/spectator/listener of a video art work or film. The video essay addresses an ambivalent media spectator, and through its use of contradictory cinematic codes, awakens his/her reading skills, in the attempt to put together the endless jigsaw puzzles of diffuse aural and visual signs.

The video essay is both a medium of theory and the culmination of digital media practice. The contemporary media consumer is addressed through the various essays in Ursula Bieman’s Stuff It: The Video Essay in the Digital Age, a work that gives access to this heterogenous, multi-genre format. The consumer subject , or JanVerwoert’s Double Viewer, is savvy in the processes of production, and aware of his implication in the politics of the textual voice. The usage of voice-over narration and the acousmatic presence in a text can guide us as to how the text reads or is read by an audience. Video Essayist practice appears in galleries and experimental film festivals, and draws from both the performative nature of conceptual video and the representational strategies of non-fiction film. It uses both the highly stylized formal devices of a specialized art practice as well as the common references of television and commercials. According to Ursula Bieman, “essayist work doesn’t aim at primarily documenting reality but organizing complexities” The voice of the video essay is not singular, but multiple, and addresses the inter-subjectivity and fracturing of the digital age. Essayist practice places the film/videomaker in a seemingly contradictory position as artist, consumer and media critic. Cultural theorist Jan Verwoert argues that the binary opposition of embedded consumption and distanced analysis (of cultural theory) fails within the complex post modern methodologies of the video essay. The freeform usage of archival footage and “ self-reflexive method of re-organizing and commenting on its meaning, places the video essayist often in the position of a media critic, whose position, however, remains ambivalent “. Verwoert goes on to explain how the proliferation of the video medium lends to its usage as a tool to critique popular cultural forms and methods of representation. Video itself is used to create “society’s collective visual output” , and thus is the ideal medium to re-construct or rework ideological industrial media forms, from the inside out”. Using the video medium in this manner shows the dualistic nature of the contemporary, savvy spectator/creator, embedded in the multiple process of consumption and critique, submersion and distance. This positioning of the spectator/creator, reveals the current dilemma in drawing from much of psychoanalytic film analysis, which, in its approach to narrative cinema and illusionistic devices positions the viewer as passive ‘receptacle” of the ideological aims of the spectacle.

In the second half of this paper, I will address the video essayist practice of Steve Reinke, whose works re-situate the I-voice within a contemporary, post-modernist fragmentation and ironic camp aesthetic. Reinke’s multiplicity of voices parodies his own role as autoethnographic filmmaker, joyfully investigating representation, while putting the authenticity of any singular project ,whether personal or historical, into doubt. Reinke’s deconstruction of the voice, consists of both injecting the authorial voice with desire and uncertainty, while also flipping the mechanisms of established genre codes which legitimize the power of a singular voice. Reinke’s video, Anthology of American Folk Song (29 Min,2004) exemplifies the growth of the hybrid cultural work of the video essay, which takes on an open structure, and a de-centered narrative to allow for multiple identifications and navigation on the part of the viewer/listener. The multiple archival fragmentations in this piece, illicit both a camp reading of popular culture and the constructedness of subjectivity through representational forms. Anthology of American Folk Song is an ideal space from which to investigate the phenomena of the acousmatic voice and the interception of language/representation, desire and spectatorship in the contemporary video essay.



The Acousmêtre: It’s Body and Purpose

The voice is an important element not just for film analysis but for ontology and psychoanalytic theory as acknowledged by Chion and outlined by Doane and Silverman in their respective theoretical practices. Chion champions sound as the baby’s entrance into the cognitive world and as the first sense to occur. The pleasure of hearing can be traced back to this infantile immersion. According to a Lacanian psychonalytic framework, sound is seminal in the subjects entrance into the social (through the mother’s voice) and our experience of authority through the law of the father. In fact, the voice introduces the law of authority, carrying with it power and language, but it is also signifies the visceral, in its indication of the mother’s body. Silverman and Doane investigate the voice as a way of understanding how the feminine is scripted within the Hollywood narrative, providing a psychoanalytic interpretation of the voice’s nature. As Doane states“..It must be remembered that, while psychoanalysis delineates a pre-oedipal scenario in which the voice of the mother dominates, the voice, in psychoanalysis, is also the instrument of interdiction, of the patriarchal order. “ Kaja Silverman, in her text, The Acoustic Mirror, places the voice as the site of division between meaning and materiality. “ It exists between the biological body and the body of language or the social body”. The voice is the perfect object of study for Reinke’s work, because it is at the cusp between the bodily and the social, language and desire. The voice initiates us into the social, but as a manifestation of sound, it is also inherently heterogenous and physical. To understand the question of the voice in cinema, I have utilized Chion’s seminal analysis of the presence of the voice in the narrative film and the “invisible” power of sound in cinema, in his book The Voice in Cinema. Chion coined the term “acousmêtre”, referring to the character of the disembodied voice in cinema, whose presence is not entirely inside or out of the narrative frame in a Hollywood film. Later in this paper, I will further investigate the acousmatic I-voice, which is the disembodied narration voice-over, prevalent in both documentary and fiction. The term, acousmatic, refers to a sound that is heard without its source or cause being seen. Sound in which the source does appear is referred to as “visualized listening”.

Acousmatic sound is an essential device in narrative film, because it organizes the law of desire in narrative pleasure, it focuses the attention of the audience, causing them to desire and seek the information that has been withheld. Part of the power of the acousmêtre is to cause fear, tension, and uncertainty on the part of the viewer. The horror film is one genre which utilizes the acousmêtre as a tactical device, often centering the narrative around a mystical being that can see beyond the frames of the film, has knowledge and powers outside of the scope of the audience. “Being in the screen and not, wandering into the surface of the screen without entering it, the acousmêtre brings disequilibrium and tension. He invites the spectator to go see , “can be an invitation to loss of self desire, fascination.“ An acousmêtre can de-stabilize the subjectivity of the audience, yet it remains intact. Many narrative films are centered around the embodiment or de-acousmatization of the acousmêtre. Two perfect examples are Psycho and the Wizard of Oz. The narrative in the Wizard of Oz, is based around the magical powers of the wizard’s bodiless, mystical voice, which is shattered when his feeble body is revealed. In Psycho, for example, the film is predicated, on Norman’s mother’s acousmêtre, and her eventual embodiment within Norman himself, in the end of the film. Part of the mechanism of fear in Psycho, is due to the absence of Norman’s mother’s visual signifiers, and the haunted presence of her ambiguous identity in the film.The premise of Chion’s book The Voice in Cinema is set in the voice’s dominance over images within the narrative format, yet there is a point in Chion’s description of the acousmêtre, in which he suggests other possible relationships between voice and visual signifier. The status of the acousmêtre and the image is not simply one of mastery, and illustration, but rather can include a complex subset of relations. “ Being involved in the image, means that the voice doesn’t merely speak as an observer (as commentary) , but that it bears with the image a relationship of possible inclusion; a relationship of power and posession capable of functioning in both directions; the image may contain the voice or the voice may contain the image.” In the second half of this paper, we will investigate how Reinke plays around with these ambiguities within his work.


Properties of Sound and The Voice

Both Doane and Chion position sound as a medium of space (as opposed to vision) and emphasize the properties of sound in supporting the power of the voice. The synasthesic and physical qualities of sound add a three dementionality to the projected images, cementing the illusion of realism. The synasthesic experience of sound speaks to its bodily qualities within cinema as opposed to the ocular narrowness of the projected image. Vision, as noted by Merleau-Ponty, can imply touch, yet sound must cover the rest of the sensory experiences, including smell, wetness, texture, taste, heat etc. Both Chion and Doane position sound as an immersive medium of space, not limited to a particular point of audition, unlike the screen. Doane locates the power of the voice in sound’s omnipresence. Sound has a “greater command over space than the look—one can hear around corners, through walls. ” Sound brings a command of space and the physical to the language of cinema that it might otherwise be alienated from. Doane articulates how the voice brings presence to the cinema, implying the physical body and space, as opposed to the two dimentional flat screen of the image. The voice “envelops” the viewer, immersing him/her in the cinematic space, not just through the narrow frame of the screen.

Sound’s bodily, physical and immersive qualities strengthen its psychological hold on the spectator. Sound enhances the meaning of the images and directs the viewers attention, affecting the viewer physically and semantically. Chion emphasizes that the dominance of the visual in our culture, has prevented the fine tuning of the other senses. Thus the voice in cinema, utilizes it’s role as a secondary sense, to manipulate the spectator, less aware of its stylistic mechanisms. “The consequence for film, is that sound, much more than the image, can become an insidious means of affective and semantic manipulation.” The sound of the screen is not primarily ‘on’ the screen but inside the listener. Sound has the power to get inside the spectator’s skin; a breathing noise can directly affect the filmgoers respiration, speeding up the audience’s heartbeat. The spectator has a special relationship with the voice, identifying with the voice internally, as it creeps inside his/her head.

The powers of the acousmêtre are embedded in the juxtaposition of the material properties of the medium of sound within the psychological space of the cinematic apparatus. Even though it is a medium of sound, the mastery of the voice in cinema supports the proliferation of a visual culture, and the power of sight over sound. The power of the acousmêtre : this all knowing, all seeing voice, emerges from its ephemeral place outside of images. “ I have said that the point from which this cinematic voice speaks always seems like a place outside of images, away from the scene or stage, somewhat like the place occupied by the slide slow lecturer, the mountain climber commenting in person on his exploits.

The acousmêtre inhabits the total panoptic fantasy: the mastery of space by vision, thus championing the film medium (representational images) over the real existence of physical or geometrical space. The acousmatic voice carries and contains the master narrative of film, because it is what can see, but can’t be seen by the spectator/audience. This in fact, is the voice of authority, that can silence inquiring subjects in western discourse. According to Doane, the voice further produces the spectator subject as a whole, unified body, in her identification with it. “The addition of sound to the cinema introduces the possibility of re-presenting a fuller, and more organically unified body, and confirming the status of speech as an individual property right. Thus the voice proposes the universal, whole subject of the symbolic order, and precludes the deconstructive, intertextuality of the post structural project.


The Documentary I-Voice

The I-voice in a film, is the omnipotent, off-screen,narrator, an acousmêtre, which has no character in the film, and is particularly relevant for our analysis of the contemporary reflexive video essayist practice. The I-voice appears in illusionistic cinema as commentary, but is most prevalent in the non-fiction film, as an expository documentary voice. Chion lays out a list of qualities attributed to the I-voice in cinema, creating its status within film history and spectatorship as the omnipotent voice of knowledge. The I-voice is a highly evolved stylistic device, which utilizes recording and filtering techniques to remove all real world referents, or atmospheric context from its timbre. The basic technical qualities of Chion’s uniquely coded I-voice are as follows; close miking, and vocal presence /definition, which in turn creates intimacy and identification on the part of the spectator. Thus the spectator incorporates the voice as his/her own hearing, and submits to its subjective reflections or rhetoric. Close miking also allows the spectator to identify with monsters or alien subjects, such as the computer Hal in 2001. The I-Voice must be isolated, with no reverb, floating outside space and time in the narrative film. This voice can get inside the viewer’s skin, and project a mix of a universal subconscious and an internalized authoritarian voice of god. The I-voice includes a “certain neutrality of timbre and accent” , t o create the illusion of its objectivity, not attached to a faulty human source, or subjective thoughts. This voice is paramount to a disembodied voice of god, appearing as far back in western culture, as the Bible or Koran.

Mary Anne Doane’s spectator of illusionistic cinema, is implicated in the universalizing politics of the voice, in his/her identification with the voices’s mastery of images. Doane elaborates how the omnipotent, unified voice produces the spectator subject as a whole body and whole subject. The spectator forms a contract with the disembodied, narrational voice to have control over the images, and she/he is able to feel whole in her/his identification with this voice of reason and power. The voice gains its authority, from its radical position outside of the filmic diegesis “establishing a complicity between itself and the spectator—together they understand and place the image.” . Doane articulates how the unity of sound itself embeds the voice. “The addition of sound to the cinema introduces the possibility of re-presenting a fuller, and more organically unified body, and confirming the status of speech as an individual property right.” Doane outlines the nature of the “universal” voice of power, that the feminist and post-colonial project fought long and hard to deflate. This is the masculine voice of authority, history and knowledge in the western cannon, the voice of objectivity and loss. It is this problematic relationship of speech and knowledge, and the conflation of the authorial voice with “truth”, that the deconstructionist video essay picks up on.


De-Acousmetization or Embodiment: Documentary, Fiction & Video Essay

The embodiment of the acousmêtre (de-acousmetization) is used as both a distancing device in the fiction film or as a plot device, as when the climax of a story is built around the manifestation of an illusive disembodied voice. The acousmatic I-voice is embodied in the fictional film, aurally, in the presence of the filmmaker himself, boldly standing between the spectator and the narrative diegesis. The self-referential I-voice doesn’t allow itself to be assimilated as internal or everyman’s voice. “If we hear a voice listening to itself talk, the image of a body and a person gets in the way of identification, it palpably takes its seat between the image and us; instead of leading us onto the image, it sticks us onto it. “ When a fiction filmmaker speaks over his own film, it serves as a distancing device from the illusion, because he is embodied. Yet the filmmaker/character has become a mainstay of contemporary reflexive documentary, allowing the spectator to lose herself in the personal, often times autobiographical voice of the author.

Chion’s “corporeal implication”, (identification of the spectator’s body), is an important subjective device used within the narrative film and Reinke’s bodily video practice. Chion outlines how the careful mapping of the I-voice and the image by mixing illusionistic/distancing techniques creates a sense of loss and an unsettling physicality in the spectator. Once reverb is added to a voice, it becomes located, “it is then no longer a subject with which the spectator identifies, but rather an object-voice, perceived as a body anchored in space.” The most powerful example of the uncanny juxtaposition between object-voice and subjective voice of a character, is when, at the end of Psycho, Norman’s mother’s voice (a subject voice) is juxtaposed on Norman’s silent body, the voice of his dead mother is co-mingled with his mute one. This voice becomes a “voice in exile” (in french,“en souffrance de corps”) is awaiting a body, as it can’t quite be assimilated into Norman’s mute body or the corpse in the basement, his actual mother. “Corporeal implication” occurs, when “we feel in our own body the vibration of the other, of the character who serves as a vehicle for identification” . This voice locks onto the body of the spectator, it drifts beyond the frame, and floats, lost, in the parameters of the theatre. This lost voice, can not be connected to the body its imposed upon, and this gap resonates in a physical manner within the audience itself. To put it simply, corporeal implication occurs with the embodiment of a subjective voice-object in a false or mismatched body.

An investment in the de-constructive practice of multiple authorial voices can be found within psychoanalytic, narrative film theory, along with third world cinema and experimental ethnography. Mary Anne Doane celebrates the post-structural techniques of multiplicity of voices in cinema as a way of combating the authoritative power of the voice, while warning of the limitations of being subsumed in the body. According to Doane, when the unity of the acousmatic voice over is fractured, the off-screen interiority of the voice disappears, and its authority and mastery over space is challenged. The images can no longer be placed in the limited space of “intelligibility” or cognizance, but open to doubt and misapprehension. The deconstruction of the acousmatic power of the voice, thus implies “not only or not merely increasing the number of voices but radically changing their relationship to the image, effecting a disjunction between sound and meaning, emphasizing what Barthes refers to as “the grain of the voice over and against its expressivity or power of representation.” . This implies the post modern practice of destabilizing the subject, adding the other, the feminine, the queer etc. within the “masculine” voice of authority, which the acousmatic voice stands in for. Once this voice is deconstructed, “the image of the body thus obtained is not one of imaginary cohesion but of dispersal, division, fragmentation. “ Doane refers to Lyotard’s vision of the deconstructed text, which avoids the bind of representation “by creating its own addressee, “ a disconcerted body, invited to stretch its sensory capacities beyond measure”. Her postmodern, sensualizing of the disembodied voice, is parallel to Chion’s concept of de-acousmatization. Doane is also aware of the self-defeating tendencies within a “politics of the voice”, which seeks to embody the male voice of authority with the erotics of the other, and sets in opposition sensory experiences with those of meaning. Soaking the voice in sensuality or some true otherness, supports oppositional binaries, and a falsity inherent in an authentic alternative, feminine or marginal discourse. Julien/Mercer also site the burden of representation which marginalized groups wield, unlike the mobility of the white filmmaker, who’s ethnicity has been rendered invisible in western culture. Voices that are embodied ethnically, racially or sexually, have to maneuver around the limitations of their assigned embodiment in popular culture, in order t o escape being subsumed into the subject/personal/other. This practice of shifting around cultural embodiment, goes hand in hand with a use of a rouse or doubling techniques (in camp aesthetics) and the intertextuality of the video essay. I would argue that within these video essayist practices, the voice is not stuck within a marginalized body, but rather site of contestation between various modes of address, authoritative, personal, queer etc.The deconstruction of the acousmatic voice in cinema is at the heart of the critique of representation, and a trope of much contemporary experimental video work. I will investigate how de-acousmetization can shift the nature of viewing and video spectatorship. If the voice is a driving force in cementing the spectator within the illusionistic devices of a cinematic text, than reconfiguring it’s discourse, means not only parody, but shifting the dynamic of the cinematic (or televisual) experience itself. The authoritative powers of the I-voice, assert realism in the fiction film and authenticity in the documentary film. Stella Bruzzi articulates the complex bind of voice-over narration in the contemporary documentary, resonating with Doane’s attack of the voice in cinema as unifying and homogenizing. “…Narration (endlessly subsumed in the far more specific category of voice of god) has come to signify documentaries at their most distortive and fictionalizing, because of the connotations of individualism, instruction and so-on that the actual presence of a voice conjures up.” Deconstructing this I-voice, would imply a challenge to the dominant forms of subjective and objective filmmaking and the power to wield knowledge/power, associated with the voice. Hybrid forms such as Russell’s Experimental Essayist practice, are never fixed by narrative, and are continually deconstructing themselves, offering no singular truth or reality. “The lack of narrative closure in any of these films leaves them open to history, and as ethnographies open to cultural change and transformation. “


Sans Soleil : The Birth of The Video Essay

The lineage of the usage of false I-voice within a experimental essayist form, begins with Marker’s 1983 feature essay film, Sans Soleil. Sans Soleil veers away from conventional modes of documentary, incorporating subjective viewpoints and an open structure, instead of a singular textual voice. San Soleil also challenges the opposition set up in classic verite filmmaking between the truth and authenticity of the image and the falseness of the voice-of-god voice over narration in film, by utilizing the voice in a meditative self-referential way. Rather than illustrative voice-over text, Sans Soleil includes ruminations on the nature of memory and representation. These thoughts are spoken by a fictional female character, reading the letters of a fictional cameramen, recounting his travels, alluding to but not necessarily standing in for Marker himself. Thus the authorial voice is masked in two layers of distancing subject voices, (1) female narrator, (2) fictional doppelganger, throwing the conflation of author/filmmaker and disembodied narrator of the text into question. Marker incorporates the female, gendered, subjective voice-over to critique the voice of god narrative practice, which is usually neutral or masculine, allowing for multiple readings of the text. Later in this text, we will re-visit this double distancing device, a mainstay of Reinke’s work, masking the authorial voice within a labyrinth of guises.


Indexical Subject of the Video Essay

The nature of the video medium draws the consumer away from the spectacle of the screen, towards the more domestic environment of home viewing, and even repeated viewings. This contemporary spectator exists in the hyperreal world of televisual reality, as envisioned by Paul Virilio, in which the spectacle of the screen has been replaced by an endless state of recording, shattering the conventional representational co-habitation of spectator and spectacle. Video is everywhere as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola and Starbucks, both the medium of state control and the luminous presence of everyday existence. Consumers are overly aware of mass media and advertising codes, yet still submit to them. A major factor in the emergence of the video essay as a low-fi, hybrid practice, and its own mutability as a genre is the medium of video itself. Video is a medium of time, rather than light, which has, historically, lent to its history of ad-hoc, durational off the cuff work (from William Wegman’s comedic monologues to early durational performance work). Time is not precious in the video medium. Tape runs cheap. Video as a the medium of both low-tech home movies, and mass industrial codes, places it at the battleground between the private and public, mass cultural ideology and the subject. It is both the common medium of laymen, and the device of highly elitist art systems.

JanVerwoert’s “double viewing” consists of contemporary popular cultural discourse, in which a consumer can enjoy the surface of an ideological image (such as the special effects and entertainment of Lord of the Rings) yet can still be critical of it’s mechanisms. This is a model of consumption based in the cultural studies platform of consumer decoders , which proposes a multi-dementional platform of identification and consumption processes. In this context, the spectator is not controlled by either the master voice of representational cinema or the spectacle of the Hollywood film. “A consumer of images can have several, even contradictory attitudes towards the images he consumes. And he is able to identify with multiple, mutually contradictory forms of communication at the same time.” Verwoert outlines a self aware media consumer, savvy about the artifice and construction of representational forms. Anyone in this digital landscape, can manipulate images on their home computer, or watch the “making of” documentaries on Hollywood production techniques. “The Concept of “Double Viewing” thus describes the simultaneity of informed distance and involvement-identification in the reception of digital media.” Reception is a mobile process, in which consumers have different attitudes at varying times in a text, and this mental flexibility is part of the pleasure of reception.

Reinke’s video essayist work addresses Verwoert’s contemporary, self-aware media consumer, utilizing the cinematic devices of mass industrial (Hollywood) and documentary codes within a post modern condition of ambivalent pleasure/criticality.

Verwoert’s double viewing coincides with Reinke’s anachronistic artistic approach: on the one hand creating beautiful textural animation and colored video clips, while at the same time hacking them up so the fetishistization of the digital image is refused. Verwoert’s terminology for this mode of essayist practice, is “disjunctive synthesis” or a mixing of illusionistic and distancing devices back to back. “Disjunctive Synthesis seeks to make use of the two contradictory principles of fascination and Skepticism”, mixing illusionistic, unifying devices and distancing devices such as heterogeneous archival sources, graphics and animation. “ Reinke’s porn clips, beautiful shots of flowers, stars and abstract video are constantly being impacted by language and social discourse. In fact, Reinke himself, could be seen as one of Verwoert’s double viewers, creating multiple and contradictory subject positions within his own voice and work.


De-Centering The Video Essay

Steve Reinke (b. 1963) is an international Canadian video artist and writer, who’s work has been exhibited heavily in the United States and in Europe, on the video festival circuit and in galleries. Since living in the Unites States for the past few years, he has based much of his recent work on his distance/embedded role within American popular culture. His video essays are a ritual activity, part of an obsessive and prolific working process. His disciplined methodologies have culminated in The Hundred Videos (1990-1997), which took him seven year to complete and consists of five hours of varying confessional video work, his own personal archive of work as a young artist. Reinke’s literary and editorial work consists of anthologies of Canadian video art, including By the Skin of Their Tongues: Artist Video Scripts(1997) and Lux: A Decade of Artists' Film and Video, (2000), as well as an upcoming book on graphic animation. Reinke has lectured at the California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA) and the University of Illinois in Chicago, USA. He is a teacher and a media theorist, in addition to his video practice, and this has cemented a highly evolved level of informed self-referentiality and academic subtext within his work.

Queer themes and overtly sexual material dot his essays, yet Reinke has found more acceptance in the art world than on the gay film festival circuit. “ I'm becoming nostalgic for the idea of being a queer filmmaker. Ten years ago my work would show regularly at gay and lesbian festivals. Now they wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole (with the exception of
J.-P. (Remix of "Tuesday & I" by Jean-Paul Kelly) which features a cute young guy talking about drugs and clubbing). I have no sense now of having a queer audience…” Reinke’s artistic body and persona are filled with sarcasm and a deferral of meaning, thus making it difficult to interview him, or categorize his work within a specific visual language. In response to one of my questions on artistic intention in Anal Masturbation and Object Loss, he responded as follows:

“Well, you’re right, of course, but I find I have nothing to say. I’m known as a bad interview because I often refuse to answer questions about my work. I used to have a particular rule: I would never answer any questions that involve interpretation. I would claim that not only was it not my job (my role) to interpret my work, but for me to offer an interpretation of work so self-reflexively concerned with its own discursive formations would be a kind of short-circuiting. I would upstage the work, and the work’s the thing."

Reinke’s practice could be seen as an obsessive, anarchistic re-reading of the essay film, or operating within the lineage of personal filmmaking techniques, which espouse an open/individual interpretation of genre form and structure. Paul Willemsen, in writing on The Hundred Videos, states that Reinke’s work re-defines the essay film, in its absence of a linear structure and textual voice. It is Reinke’s grounding in video art and camp aesthetics that stretch the proportions of the video essay within his work. Reinke’s universe precludes meaning. “..There is no overall subject. It is a collection of unassuming ideas, everyday life observations and recollections of all kinds”. If the politics of the disembodied voice imply textual unity, a master plan, and a master narrator, Reinke’s working process begins without plan, and it is from that point that the discursive power of the voice is investigated. Reinke’s process does not begin from illustration or exposition of a singular point of view, but rather from a negotiated position. “Unless a work is quite short, I do not have a clear plan or script before setting out. I collect fragments: images, text, etc. Sometimes writing in response to an image; sometimes finding an image to go with writing. Lately I’ve begun to refer to this pile of things as an archive and an ongoing work called Final Thoughts. I will keep adding things to Final Thoughts — it will not be complete until I die. “


Reinke: Professional, Confessional Parody

The thread of confessional video and cultural inscriptions of the body resonate from the beginning of Reinke’s video practice and have manifested in his most prolific endeavor, the five hour collection, entitled The Hundred Videos , 100 videos which he set to complete by his fortieth birthday, presented at Shoreditch Town Hall, London, 2000. Reinke continually incorporates the documentary I-voice to critique the knowledge/power structure of language through out his work. In one of his earliest pieces “Excuse of the Real”(4 min,1989) he attacks the voyeuristic detachment employed by the documentary filmmaker in making a film about a marginalized subject. As AnnVance states “A male voice speaking in the first person is layered over repeat-cut home movie footage. He tells of his interest in making a documentary about Aids and how this would involve taking a “close personal look at a guy dying”, concluding that his film would not be complete without his death.” Reinke’s frustration with the documentary process is evident in this early tape, and his need to critique the crisis of cultural representation (and its impact on the body), persists through out his work.


Anal Masturbation and Object Loss: A Microcosm of Reinke’s Queer Universe

Anal Masturbation and Object Loss (2002) is a short six minute video in which Reinke playfully glues together the unecessary pages of a psychology textbook for a fantasy art school, in which “only Heidegger is taught”. This video is a compact manifestation of Reinke’s ironic, intertextual universe, in which queer undertones, and an investigation of discourse itself collides in the pages of a psychology textbook. The pieces investigates a frustration with the repression of the blatantly homosexual within psychoanalysis as well as engages with a cynical love of language and discourse itself. As Reinke glues together the pages of a text book (coyly titled “Anal Masturbation and Object Loss”) he states “I want the term anal masturbation to refer only to anal masturbation”, and states his frustration with the use of the term, in the psychoanalytic framework of the book, to refer to a girls constipation in the aftermath of her father’s death. Reinke’s musings on getting a bigger glue stick, calls attention to the recurrent presence of queer desire and the phallus itself, even if only in the spoken word. Reinke parodies the language of the performance art video in this piece by creating a performance video which negates the power of language by incorporating a disembodied voice over which is both sarcastic and personal. This video exemplifies Reinke’s close involvement in theoretical discourse and philosophical inquiry within his work. He is engaged in a rhetorical argument with the audience, sermonizing in a completely deadpan manner.“ Every school needs a library….The problem is that they function as an archive, a repository for dead things…One must be selective or one will disappear…I’m glueing together the unnecessary pages of the book so they will cease to burden us.” This is a parody of a performance video, in which the performance itself is gluing the unnecessary pages of the book together. It recalls the early performance works of John Baldessari or Paul McCarthy, yet lacks their authenticity. The sarcastic lilt in the voice framing a close up of the pages being glued, removes the imprint of the authentic body, or “pure” mark of the event occuring in real time. Instead, Reinke’s disembodied voice-over implies fictive strategies, both a self-consciousness of performance and theatricality. Reinke self-referentially refers to the title and making of the work in the voice-over text itself. While fantasizing about future art projects, he states “this is called ‘Anal Masturbation and Object Loss’ , in parentheses, video.”. This piece exemplifies the importance of language/discourse within Reinke’s work; it is all about text, there are no other sound effects, the only image is of a book with text, being edited, and the only voice is a expository voice over. This piece exemplifies Reinke’s working process and perhaps stands in for his working philosophy; that “existence is predicated not on cognition or perception, but selection”. The process of gluing the pages of the book together, of removing information, is parallel to the process of his video production, of deferring and constructing meaning from archival material.


Parody and political inquiry:

“ Essayist work doesn’t aim at primarily documenting reality but organizing complexities” In her text, “The Video Essay in the Digital Age,” Bieman explains how essayist work is a self-reflexive process, one aimed at the nature of representation itself. Reinke takes this self-reflexive, discursive practice initiated by Marker, and brings it to the realm of camp revery and postmodern irony, by indulging in the senseless parody of documentary forms coupled with a desire for a socially-engaged dialogue. He utilizes a warped voice-over narration as a medium to travel through various states of documentary and cinematic address, and to implicate the documentary format with the desire of the other. The de-acousmetization of the I-voice voice in Reinke’s material is a multitask function, consisting of (a) embodying the voice of the author in endless masks, and (b) unveiling the surface threads of archival material. His embodiment consists of the camp platform of celebrating artifice, rather than critiquing it, with some authentic voice of an other (ethnic, queer, homosexual, female etc) Reinke investigates archival material as an object of history as well as a bodily sign.


Camp Surface

Reinke’s ‘slapping together‘ of high and low cultural signs, including the varied mix of education, pornography and documentary footage in his video essays, resonates with Camp’s love of surface and exploitation of popular culture. Camp focuses on the surface and artifices of cinema, the style, thus allowing the spectator to read between the lines and decode popular culture for his or herself, not just blinded by the authorial voice of a mass cultural artifact. Richard Dyer emphasizes in his text “It’s Being So Camp as Keeps Us Going” , the importance of camp in demystifying the languages of both high art and popular culture. “Camp can make us see that what art and the media give us are not Truth or Reality, but fabrications. Camp, by drawing attention to the artifices employed by artists, can constantly remind us that what we are seeing is only a view of life.” Reinke’s video work emanates camp’s love of artifice as he strips meaning from the voice and re-directs the viewer’s attention to surface details. The displacement of cultural codes in Anthology of American Folk Song from JLO to Christian evangelicalism, resonates with a queer/camp agenda of breaking cultural codes of heterosexual/homosexual and revealing the hidden desiring signifiers within the structure of Western cultural discourse. His voyeuristic, disembodied voice-overs often overlay the lush video surfaces , of hand drawn or videotaped flowers, forcing the viewer onto the surface body of the image, rather than within the authorial body, or the mystical psyche of the disembodied narrator.


Camp Performativity

The use of masquerade, a rouse or doubling, is embedded in camp culture (which has grown out of gay culture) based on the need to mask a queer identity (i.e. clositing) in a heterodominant society. Camp’s performativity and masquerade is implicated in Reinke’s usage of the disembodied voice and orchestration of multiple, performative selves. In describing, the voice as an affect of the real, Reinke claims“ My voice-over in various incarnations, is the anchor for the parade of genres and imagery that you will see before you. But as anchor, my voice-over is also the effect of, one could argue, a de-centered subjectivity or a radical dislocation of self that is splayed across pop culture”. Reinke weaves autobiographical guises out of pop culture, pornographic and archival signifiers. If camp, as Richard Dyer states, is “a lie that tells the truth,” than Reinke’s work shines with camp artifice. In one voiceover in his 2001 video, Sad Disco Fantasia, Reinke claims “The best art is the most beautiful art and all that other stuff, ideas and such, gives us headaches, after all, art is not philosophy…I’m only going to photograph boys and flowers from now on…,”at the same point he is in the middle of making an intertextual, conceptual video. We can only assume that this disembodied voice is Reinke’s, but all that appears is an abstract image of flowers, and without direct address , or the appearance of the authorial body, we can never really be sure. Reinke often refuses the revelation of his own identity (of the face) in his works; instead indicating a decapitated or spectral body. In Sad Disco Fantasia, a figure whom we can only assume is Reinke, appears masturbating or walking along the Hollywood stars in Los Angeles, but refuses the aura of the face and its conflation with an authentic self.


Embodiment in Reinke’s Video Essayist Work

Reinke parodies the genre of the personal diary film and creates a false omniscient acousmêtre along with a false autoethnography, thus leaving his work somewhere between camp revery, video art and the video essay. Reinke’s videos resonate with the deconstructive methodologies of Russell’s definitions of autoethnography, building stories about the self from the platform of artifice, yet losing any resemblance of narrative flow. “Autoethnography is a vehicle and a strategy for challenging imposed forms of identity and exploring the discursive possibilities of inauthentic subjectivities.” The voice-overs in Reinke’s work parody his own role as autoethnographic filmmaker, thus putting any project (personal or historic) into a complete state of crisis, landing in absurdism and camp irony.

“My video work is elusively autobiographical. I am able to satisfy my need for self-expression without actually expressing anything true about myself. Which is to say that my autobiographical visual essays are for the most part fictional. I am everywhere in my work but you cannot see me. I am forthcoming, but I play fast and loose with the facts.” [Tom Folland writing as "Steve Reinke"] Reinke explores inauthentic authorial voices in his work, through endless disembodied vocal masks, making it difficult to tell which subjectivity he occupies, or if he occupies any of them. The recurrent voice through out much of Reinke’s work, from The Hundred Videos to Anthology of American Folk Song, is that of the ambivalent, performative/autobiographical voice of personal meditation ,theoretical reflection and academic sermonizing. Reinke’s theorising voice has a linguistic rhythm to it—alluding to the performance of the written page, and the self-referentiality of an object-voice. Reinke’s theorizing, documentary I-Voice is embodied through off the cuff, personal remarks, and references to the art making process. Reinke’s eccentric artistic musings range from the search for the perfect glue stick in Anal Masturbation and Object Loss, the need to develop photography skills in Sad Disco Fantasia, to the need to scratch out a face in the pornographic imagery of Anthology of American Folk Song. Reinke’s manipulation of the voice, maintains the body and the tone of authority in its endless sermons, yet pricks it with discourses of desire, disease and the mundane. In Sad Disco Fantasia (2000), he addresses the melancholy of his mother’s death with sarcastic musings on fame and pop culture, and creative property issues all in the same droll, ironic tone;”Charles M. Schultz and my mother are both death, but his characters live on.” He embeds the reflective, theoretical I-voice with sarcasm and a lilt that never allows us to trust it completely.


Anthology of American Folk Song :Multiplicity of Voices

Reinke uses Chion’s concept of corporeal embodiment to situate the spectator in the alienating space of his psychedelic and camp surface world. In Reinke’s work, a manipulated subject-voice is often times juxtaposed with a bodily fragment: a hand sifting through photographs (Anthology Of American Folk Song), masturbating, (Sad Disco Fantasia) , glueing a book together (Anal Masturbation and Object Loss) or engaged in other ‘everyday’ activities. Oftentimes, the identity of the body is not revealed, and it is left ambiguous as to whether this is the body of the author or an external performer. This voice is always close miked, picking up all the gutteral sensations. In Anthology the body has disappeared and mapped onto anything from abstract colors, to flowers and animated pornographic stills. Reinke’s personal, “autobiographical” voice seems to be precisely a “voice in exile”, painfully caught between, discourse/the body and language/the imaginary.

His tweaking of the voice with irony, feminine inflections or audio filters, makes it impossible to connect this highly stylized, subject voice with the low-tech, verite quality of the actions being performed. In Anthology of American Folk Song, the body of the author has disappeared almost completely, leaving the viewer submerged between the flatness of video bodies and the gaze of a scopophilic eye. The audience of Anthology of American Folk Song is stuck in an endless identification with the voyeuristic look of the disembodied voices, staring at pornographic footage or sifting in pink video mucous, listening to endless apocalyptic meditations on death and disease. “The disembodied voice has been central to a lot of my work. I have to say, I have no idea where the body has gone in Anthology. As the voice splintered and (partially) disappeared, the body of the narrator went with it. Of course, the video is filled with spectral bodies: angels, ghosts, the defaced and unformed.”
Anthology of American Folk Song includes a multilevel system of de-acousmatization; consisting of (a) parodying the voice of documentary/reflection within his own authorial speech (b) an incorporation of intertextual discourse within one piece, superimposing codes of fiction, documentary, pornography and video art. Parody/Artifice strip the voice-over of the master narrative agency of Hollywood film, or the authentic voice of history (documentary film) and re-align it with voice of an other. (One that is fragmented and artificial, feigning the voice of authority, but endlessly failing as a masculine, rational subject, impacted by its own hesitation as well as a discourse of desire.)The multiplicity of Reinke’s textual voices, creates a state of disorientation and structured play for the reader. He teases the surfaces of these genre codes, sending representation itself into a complete state of crisis.

Reinke parodies the documentary voice of the archive, in a dualistic approach. He pairs two modes of address in his own voice as well as re-edits various doctor’s voices from science/psychoanalytic/sex educational films and features. Reinke’s voice is the most powerful, close miked and articulate, acting as a loose form of aural chaptering through out the film. The disembodied, ambivalent narrative voice meditates on various themes from the personal to the global, from media theory and philosophy to disease and religion, and takes on autobiographical intonations as well as didactic/expository voices in its caustic visions of an American future . The voice in Reinke’s work is dominant, but imagery can sometimes deflate its presence. The more direct the correlation between the footage and the spoken voice, the less authority the voice maintains as it slips into a concrete subjectivity. In one scene from Anthology of American Folk Song, some home-made porn footage of various men masturbating themselves and sometimes each other, is cut with a voice over that ironically celebrates the dominance of the portrait. “The face is the most interesting part. Everything else is just context. I want to show you the face but discretion forbids it. I am drawing on a huge archive of images. I take whatever catches my eye. I like my images well composed and well lit.” Reinke’s supposed obsession with the ‘face’ appears completely sarcastic in correlation to the powerful thrust of the undulating bodies. This text plays over incredibly grainy, nightvision footage of masturbation, it is spoken in a quasi-authoritative, slow paced tone, both instructing the audience in techniques, and stripping the footage of any kind of underground or erotic tone it might have. The two modes of address in this voice are ironic and authoritative, yet both are undercut by the background groans of the ejaculating men. The immediacy of the fetishized masturbation footage, prevents a coherent vocal argument from taking place. The dominance of the phalluses jolt the mechanisms of the voice, which seems to be enjoying the imagery just a little bit too much.

Reinke uses Chion’s corporeal embodiment to tease genre codes and implicate the spectator within the perverse sexuality of the text. A simple doubling of gender codes within the voice, can arouse a load of associations, of both mutable bodies and phantasmatic ones. In one scene, a close up shot of a someone sifting through an “archive” of polaroid photos of various erect men appears, with a male voice, singing the innocent, girly Jennifer Lopez song, “I’m Just Jenny from the Block”. The men’s eyes in the photographs are masked, or their heads are cut off, revealing only the fetishized body of desire, sometimes beautiful and sometimes diseased or disfigured, in its place. The framing of the image is an overview shot of the hands slapping the photos down, placing the viewer in the voyeuristic position of the unidentified singing voice. Most likely, this is Reinke’s voice itself, teasing the audience as he sifts through photographs, yet there is no text or context framing this scene. Like many scenes in the film, it acts as a pre-action scene (or in television terminology, interstitial) in which tension is building up, but no narrative climax ever occurs. A disconcerting corporeality is created, in the failed attempt of the male voice to master the high tone, feminine characteristics of the Jennifer Lopez song. This failed attempt at gender performance, resonates within the body of the audience as we are placed inside this ambiguous character’s gaze. Since there is no queer body or other to stick this transgender voice on, and contain it as an object (separate from body of the spectator) she/he is forced to experience it’s coming into being, as it merges with the diegetic skin of the film itself. This scene also exemplifies the queer practice of investigating the process of othering inherent within western culture, through Reinke’s allusion to the codes of the popular genre of the serial killer film. . The disembodied voice of the archytypal, transgendered serial killer, prevalent in such mainstream films as Demme’s Silence of the Lambs and De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, who stares at photographs of his victims, is alluded to in the play of masculine/feminine gender codes within the singular voice of the author. The trauma and threat of castration of the horror film looms in the air, while the potential killer (the filmmaker himself) sifts through polaroids of phalluses. In the horror/thriller film, like Dressed to Kill the killers are rendered powerless, castrated when their identities are revealed, yet in Anthology of American Folk Song the potential of a criminal identity is a fiction itself. This scene only lasts about two minutes, building tension, and than abruptly cuts with a verite shot of a young man eagerly discussing his impending castration operation. This parallels the larger structure of the video, in which the viewer is shaken by various cinematic codes back to back, as soon as the first code takes a hold, she/he is jolted into the next.

Reinke opens Anthology of American Folk Song with a rupturing of the synch-sound relationship of some anonymous home video footage, corrupting the presence of sound and interrupting the flow of the voice from the start. Reinke's multilevel system of de-acousmatization throws off the authenticity of the diary film from the start. He re-edits the archive to insert different times of the voice. Reinke’s voices are not Mary Anne Doane’s nurturing utterances, or ones which lead the spectator through the images, but rather cause rupture at every point. In the opening scene of Anthology of American Folk Song, a seemingly innocuous clip of a baby’s birthday party, the sound of adults cooing is fractured and slowed down into a non-sync relationship with the imagery. The low-fi video footage of the baby, sometimes superimposed with frames of itself, being photographed by the spectating adults, combined with the manipulated audio, creates a cacophonous and disorienting juxtaposition. The technique of slowing down voices, or stretching the pitch, connotes the state of memory and the subconscious, a haunting nightmare of a birthday party, from the consiousness of the baby grown up. It is the failure of the voice to read the action of the material, and the sparring of the past with the present, that is so creepy. The voice does not tell the story of the past, but is stuck in it. This singular technique of shifting the voice slightly, by slowing the pitch, creates a haunting tension, the inability of the subjects to unify with their representational, imaged selves, photographing the baby. The gap between the attempt to stretch time in the voice, superimposed with the real time visuals creates a seductive space of flux. In this first ‘scene’ , Reinke reveals the editing process, through both the splaying of the sync-sound of the material, and the appearance of a sequence of digital freeze frames from the scene itself, edited at the end. This scene also illustrates the ongoing theme of obsessive scopophilia through out the piece, of bodies objectified, gendered or categorized by the camera, stuck in their photographed images as objects of the fetishistic gaze, constructed by history, unable to ‘speak’ through their images. This is just another instance of Reinke inserting the master narrative of the archive (whether personal or historical) with its own inconsistencies. The film opens in a state of deconstruction and disorientation, only to unravel further and further into chaos.

The radical fissure of sound and image in Reinke’s work is both seductive, in its complexity and sensory quality, as well as disorienting and distancing. We are used to radical editing techniques, and non-synch sound in the post MTV world. However Reinke slows down the language of the montage, by adding multiple time sequences—including black frames, freeze frames, three minute sequences of one image, forcing the viewer to address the rupturing of cinematic codes occurring in each scene. Reinke’s conflation of genre codes, and lack of structural unity, defies even the more open genre of the video essay. Anthology of American Folk Song contains an endless barrage of digital manipulation, including superimposition, digital glitches, combined with warped songs and voice overs, creating a psychedelic microcosm, which is both non-sensical and completely specific. Reinke throws so many different kinds of sound-image relationships at the viewer in Anthology that it becomes difficult to map the piece as a whole, or have a singular reading of it. It is not just a found footage film, a gay home porn movie, a documentary, or a music video but all these genres at once.

The severe disconnect between sound and image, leaves the viewer on the surface of genre codes as opposed to immersed within them, teasing the viewer with the idea of embodiment but never offering up the cake itself. “Voice and image go together in order to make something larger: a line of force, a thought, a connection. It is important that the relationship be more than illustrative. “ New terminology must be developed to discuss this non-synch, experimental approach to sound and image. Reinke sites Abigail Child’s use of the word “torque” to describe how one image can torque meaning out of another.” He describes his method of editing , as “torquing” one code from another, emphasizing the need to go beyond the illustration of images, in documentary video practice. Reinke uses this disconnect between sound and image as a double distancing device, removing the desire from the porn footage and removing the stylistic devices operating within each genre that he parodies; the inspirational film, the queer transgender film, and sentimental home video footage. One scene which emphasises the collapsing of meaning is Reinke’s inspirational video scene. In this sequence, the codes of punk rock, christian inspiration and sarcasm converge and retract. A manipulated voice over is intercut with a Patti Smith song, “Ghost Dance” and close up high-definition, image of flowers. The voice resembles some warped version of an inspirational video, or televangelist piece, in which the soothing, godlike voice has been slowed down, so it sounds like a cheesy, computer generated, “I-Sound” voice. Yet this top layer of the voice, contains the shadows of a sincerity of the cultural critique, underneath the cartoon like qualities of the pitch. “ God still operates here...but in a diminished capacity..God was never really efficacious enough for the Americans anyway. Who Needs Mysterious Ways, this is the land of direct action, concrete results, still, one needs a higher power, a lynchpin for 12 step programs”. The Patti Smith song plays on a low level, as a conventional background soundtrack, adding a soulful punk rock undertone, shadowing the massive presence of the close miked inspirational voice in the foreground. Thus a resistant, subcultural subjectivity and a preaching, apocalyptic one operate on top of each other, never blending, but removed from their original intention. The fissure of these oppositional codes echoes the illusion of immersion, but never provides any climatic fulfillment, like the vestiges of a failed pop song.


Re-embodiment of the Archive

In his scatological , uncompromising treatment of both official archival material, and his own personal imagery, Reinke is presenting a twisted camp revaluation of the norms of medical knowledge and discourse. Reinke appropriates the use of found footage filmmaking techniques in Anthology, heralded by experimental luminaries such as Ken Jacobs and Bruce Connor and celebrated by Catherine Russell in her text Experimental Ethnography. “In the intertextuality, fragmentation, and discursivity of found footage filmmaking, the body has a very different status than it does in conventional ethnography. It is no longer representative of culture, but an element of culture, a signifier of itself.” The bodies in Reinke’s re-edited archive have been objectified, otherized and infantilized by the discourse of western history. Reinke critiques the heteronormative authorial voice of western discourse in his incorporation of re-edited archival medical footage. One of the video’s endless fractured narratives, is the presence of ’aberrant’ (sexual/pathological) subjects underneathe the scopophilic gaze of institutionalized science and western normative social/psychological behavior. “Gonad Boy” (a boy with under developed sexual organs, called hypo-gonadism) appears twice in Reinke’s video. In the first instance he appears in different stages of childhood, and puberty, re-edited to anonymous sound material of a man describing his paranoid condition to a psychiatrist in a clinic. Much later in the 29 minute piece, the footage appears with the original sounds, and in a durational format, with the boy’s doctor, describing his growth, as various nude images of the boy are presented, flowing in a chronological fashion, from depression/no sexual development to “contentment” and pubic hair. The neutrality of the doctor’s disembodied , scientific voice is undermined by its historical locatedness, the closeted cold war era of the 1950’s-1960’s, within the context of a contemporary, queer video piece. The additional incorporation of ragtime music tunes, also adds a double grain to the voice and further interrupts the authorial voice of the footage. We never once hear the boy speak, and he appears more like a shocked lab rat than a human being. Reinke does not present a didactic critique of the footage, rather expresses a joy and humor in its oddity of address and failure to be a voice of objectivity. The hypo-gonad case study is presented as just another moment of sexual voyeurism and cultural inscription of the body within Reinke’s warped world.

It’s as if the title of the piece Anthology of the American Folk Song is a guise, or ruse masking the ‘real’ meaning of the piece, which is endlessly reconfigured within the text itself. Beginning with the title, Reinke throws out a number of playful guises to deflate the unabashedly queer content of the material, the melding of ‘Americana’ with a homosexual ontology. In an interview with Reinke on the use of music in the video, he states “About half the selections come from the Harry Smith anthology. I don’t think of it as a response to the Smith (although it is, of course). If all one knew about America was the Smith anthology, one would have a very limited, specific, perverse view of America, but one which was nevertheless profound and accurate. I attempt the same sort of thing in my anthology: to present some aspect of the current mythological landscape of America.” Like the Harry Smith Anthology, which is a personal, grassroots archive of Appalachian music in America, this piece presents Reinke’s own anachronistic archive of Americana from a camp, de-centered perspective, including anything from home movies to pornographic paraphenalia, American pop songs, as well as the occasional rift from Harry Smith’s own collection of blues and folk songs. Reinke explores his love of the archive, in his attentive, obsessive re-working of the material, yet blasts its legitimacy as a fixed body of knowledge, through his self-imploding structure.


Video Essay As Reading

Reinke’s video work can be looked at as a form of engaged spectatorship/production, a text of media studies rather than a fetishized art object. His work appears in both the gallery and festival circuit, yet it’s intertextuality precludes the immediacy of consumption/fetishization of the visual art experience. “Work that functions well in galleries often features a big stupid image that changes slowly: moving paintings or simple performances. More discursive, essayistic work fares less well. It asks for a different type of engagement. Who wants to go from walking around looking at pictures to something more like reading. A screening situation finds audiences perhaps more capable of concentrating long enough to engage. Best of all, a home viewing in which the viewer can pause, rewind, replay. “ His video essay practice is closer to a form of writing and reading than Hollywood cinema, where the consumer is in a negotiated position with the text, not simply read by it. Reinke’s essayist practice situates his tapes in archival context, as books, rather than art pieces, ideal for a home viewing situation. Reinke himself is a consumer, as much as a maker, he grew up in mediated reality, and his work grows from the process of consumption. “The fact that images and visual codes precede reality is something that Reinke, like so many film and video makers of the last decade, can only testify” The complex method of decoding that must occur to address some level of ideological implication in Reinke’s video essays is parallel to the process of reading philosophy or discursive analytic practice. Reinke thinks of his work as writing, and wants to it to be read or experienced in a similar fashion, in a situation which allows for multiple encounters with the text.


Lineage of Conceptual Video Performance

Reinke mixes the cool distance of found footage filmmaking with the very personal approaches of performance video art. The presence and understanding of the lineage of the conceptual art movement (and performance experiments) of the 60’s and 70’s, is apparent in Reinke’s work. The history of video art is rooted in the investigation of the cultural landscape through the interception of conceptual art processes and popular cultural forms, such as rock music or television. Yet the wry humor of Baldessari’s California conceptualism has particular relevance to Reinke’s use of the performative voice as a method for the investigation of language, popular culture and art theory. In such dead pan pieces, as Baldessari Sings Lewitt (1972, 15 minutes) Baldessari combines American pop culture and conceptual art discourse, by singing a Lewitt treatise in varying popular American tunes, from the star spangled banner to Heaven. It is Baldessari’s use of the authentic/performative voice in this piece which is relevant to Reinke’s distanced voice. Baldessari’s his body becomes a tool in which to injest and re-gurgitate Lewitt’s sacred manifesto, poking fun at the discourse that he is so clearly embedded within. In Reinke’s work, media theory, meditations on death, sexuality and the body all co-mingle in his ironic disembodied vocal intonations. However, the authentic body of the performer and gesture of conceptual art has disappeared completely in his work. The artist is actually deceptively all powerful in Reinke’s universe, because the ideological implications of the work can not immediately be assimilated either into the body of the artist or his own individualistic mythology. Addressing the many manifestions of the disembodied voice over in Reinke’s video essayist work through a reading of psychoanalytic film theory , cultural studies, and a queer framework may seem like a self-defeating, paradoxical task. Yet the heterogeneity of his practice and the co-mingling of discourse, language and desire, within the psychedelic mapping of the voice onto anything from pornographic scraps to animated Snoopies requires a multi-disciplinary approach, one that addresses intertextuality and consumption processes. Reinke’s work consists of endless diatribes, but few spoken rules. Perhaps , I might suggest one: an absurdist conversation between voyeuristic pleasure and philosophical discourse is an essential option for any viewing.

“In other words, I self-consciously make work that is only occasionally “difficult” and only occasionally depends on the viewer getting specific references. I’ve often said that my work seduces the audience, and then slaps them around. My ideal audience is large and varied and pays attention. My expectation is that readers pay attention. A certain level of unguardedness is also called for; they must be open, disarmed.”