[Program notes for a screening at Smart Projects, Amsterdam, 2001.]


Seltzer Pants


Kevin Brosnan and Joseph Cassan, Spring Succeeds, 2001, 4 min

Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, Being Fucked Up, 2001, 10 min

Kwabena P. Slaughter, 5 is Transformation, 2001, 1 min

Sarah Conaway, Maroon Mission, 2000, 7 min

Jeremy Drummond, Stallworks Act I, 1999, 1 min

Eddo Stern, Sheik Attack, 1999, 16 min

Sarah Conaway, Siblings, 2001, 1 min

Jeremy Drummond, Stallworks Act III, 1999, 3 min

Sarah Conaway, Two Dogs and a Ball, 2001, 3 min

Jeremy Drummond, Spit, 2000, 3 min

Kwabena P. Slaughter, Yo Tengo Un Suena Hoy, 2000, 4 min

Jeremy Drummond, Untitled, 2001, 5 min

Sarah Conaway, Riddle, 2001, 1 min

Miranda July, Nest of Tens, 1999, 27 min


Is everything a performance? Do we perform our identities? Is the construction of subjectivity a performance? Old questions, I know, but here are some newer ones: Does every performance end in applause? Who, exactly, is applauding? And why, and for whom? I'm writing these notes, a little bit drunk, in the back of a paperback edition of Saul Bellow's Ravelstein. The first paragraph, page one:

Odd that mankind's benefactors should be amusing people. In America at least this is often the case. Anyone who wants to govern the country has to entertain it. During the Civil War people complained about Lincoln's funny stories. Perhaps he sensed that strict seriousness was far more dangerous than any joke. But his critics said that he was frivolous and his own Secretary of War referred to him as an ape.

The videos in this program are mostly by young American and quasi-American (Canadian) artists. The most cutting thing that is said about contemporary art, particularly video, is that it is often a hollow pastiche of 70s' conceptualism. A re-performance of performances that once meant something, or mean something now but only in hind-sight, in historical context. As if we were all the bastard children of Valie Export and Vito Acconci, doomed to our nostalgic, mocking imitations.

But there is no reason to accept these easy dismissals. Here is one reason not: This work has a complex and profound conception of audience, of reception. If it is a truism that in this postmodern, postcolonial world we cannot rely on a hegemonic Dear Reader, cannot be sure that our audience is one of us, one of them, or one of anything — it still remains to establish a rhetoric for a heterogeneous, shifting, unfathomable audience. Implied audiences are constructed around bodies of shared knowledge and values. One strategy that many of these tapes employ is to construct multiple specific implied audiences from which the artists' — both as performers and implied authors — maintain a sceptical distance. Artist as performer, as clown, as ape. Not really a circus, but a vaudeville stage: the implied audience may be urban, Jewish, entrepreneurial, Catskill-vacationing, but the schtick works just as well with the hicks in Spokane. So: A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.