The red shoes and other forms of torture

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Sigmar Polke and Christof Karlhofer are the artists who made the terrific video for which I was a little short on information yesterday when I posted about the Kramlich Collection show I saw at the Fabric Workshop and Museum (see post).

Part of what gave this video, “The Head Feels Light and Wants to Fly,” its interest was its visual simplicity. The sequence with the red men’s pointy-toed shoes beset by snakelike long green veggies (cucumbers? zucchinis?) was beautiful and hilarious–beautiful for the colors against the white background (even the socks were white), hilarious for the reference to cowboy movies, the shoes looking like a cross between Euro-young-dandy and cowboy boots, the veggies almost passing for rattlers at the first moment, until their stupidity as vegetables takes over and the invisible hands manipulating them into looking like a threat becomes the subject (right, the red shoes and cucumbers).

The “snakes” were not the only threat. There were a couple of sequences involving a large, swinging plumb bob that looked heavy as it swayed above one man’s face–he looked a lot like Polke. One of the plumb bob sequences included what looked like a squeeze bulb for clearing out a baby’s nose, the bulb in the man’s mouth, the pointy end being moved by the mouth to wiggle and to interact with the plumb bob. Another plumb bob sequence involved a man in a sort of executioner’s hooded mask. Another involved just the naked face with the threatening bob above.

In all cases, the threat’s manipulator is off-screen, implying a greater force than is visible. And there’s a hint of torture in the plumb bob sequences. As in the cucumber sequence, there’s also a hint of play, of boys playing at torture. And finally there’s the question of control, and who has it. It’s sort of an arty version of Harold Pinter’s play “The Dumbwaiter” (right, a picture of Polke without a plumb bob).

This video is a loose, barely choreographed or planned body-art performance, and reminded me more of Bruce Nauman than the nearby Bruce Nauman videos did (one of these also involved a shoe, but to a quite different purpose). For all their casualness, Polke and Karlhofer kept my attention.

That’s more than I can say for Gilbert and George’s interminable, one-note video, “The Nature of our Looking,” in which they pose seated on a bosky hillside, looking in one direction, and then they stand on a bosky hillside, looking in the other direction. They look perfectly Victorian in their prissy jackets, ties and hats, and other than striking their two poses, the do absolutely nothing. Torture. I suppose the reference here can go to Andy Warhol and his videos of no motion, but that ground got broken long ago. I was reminded of their deliberately haphazard non-video work–annoying, supercilious and mannered.

I didn’t give a fair shake to Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers‘ video “Belga Vox-Mode-20th Century Fox,” other than to observe it was a series of old black-and-white film clips that included the 20th Century Fox screen logo, scenes of fighter planes lined up on the ground, and scenes of the manufacture of a mysterious large white-ish block. It reminded me of old World War II newsreels and looked kind of interesting, but I needed more context and patience.

As for the Joseph Beuys videos, they had two strikes against them before I even looked. They were on small monitors and they were by Beuys. I am not a fan and the other large projections upstairs and the Ruscha videos downstairs held my attention. So I cannot report.

These videos and the ones I previously posted on will remain up (except when the lecture room is otherwise in use) until Nov. 12. An additional wave of videos from the Kramlich Collection will go up Oct. 7, and will run simultaneously with these for the duration of the exhibit.

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