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Burlesques Contemporains - Jeu de Paume - Paris


Burlesques Contemporains at the Jeu de Paume – June 6th – September 6th, 2005
Art Dirt Redux - mp3
This show is the brainchild of Christophe Kihm who is a managing editor at Art Press (the French equivalent of Artforum). Each year Art Press does a special edition on a critical point of view. In 2003, Kihm did the special edition and the theme was le burlesque. For the Jeu De Paume exhibition the other contemporary French art magazine Beaux Arts did a special edition catalog. “… burlesque is linked to action. Originally, it was a practice that involved an entire array of physical techniques and action. Its’ range is fairly broad, in that a body’s response to space is determined by constantly changing contexts and situations. Burlesque can even be expanded to include artistic gestures and ideas when a process of reversal similar to that exerted on a body (by means of force, competence. Gravity, etc.) is applied. A definition of seeing always includes the act of setting a distance, which always has something to do with morality. On the other hand, I think that there is something amoral about burlesque.” Christophe Kihm, Burlesques Contemporains catalog, page 25.

The work we (Peter Sinclair and I) have in the exhibition is A SoaPOPera for iMacs. The piece uses text-to-speech and voice recognition. Peter did the max msp programming to set up a database of the text and the keywords. Since the time we first conceived and executed the piece in 1998, it has gone through several permutations from performance vehicles to this its’ final form. Originally it was done in Mac OS 9. For this new Mac OS 10 version, Peter had to write a whole new max patch and I had to re-write all new texts harking back to what was current in the 1990’s. I was able to salvage and upgrade many of the themes and the spirit of the work. We had added carved and painted polyurethane wigs at one point. Peter re-did these and finished them with the help of a friend who has a velvet flocking device (don’t ask just look at the photos!) One of the more amusing occurrences was when, during the opening, a French women began to mimic Princess’s (one of the stock computer voices we used) sing-songy lament, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, … “ I was floored! A person mimicking a manipulated to sound like a human, synthetic voice was quite a success!

The exhibition shares the museum with a highly detailed and complete show of Charlie Chaplin’s works. The comparisons and dialog between the two exhibitions add a dimension and continuity that is inspiring in its conception. I was able to revisit Chaplin’s oeuvre and look at the breadth of his talent and its influence anew.

In the Burlesques Contemporains show were many works I had admired over the years. Especially poignant for me was the piece Clockshower by Gordon Matta-Clark my dear friend. This little known work has him suspended from a construction trapeze outside the clock face at Alanna Heiss’s Clocktower space in Lower Manhattan. He lathers himself up, shaves, takes a shower etc. in an extension of the Harold Loyd silent movie riff where Loyd hangs from the hands of a clock. Dennis Oppenheim’s piece, Attempt to raise Hell, where a metal headed puppet dressed in a miniscule flannel suit, hits his head against a bell, ten times an hour is also unique in its’ pathos. There is also the popular Fischli & Weiss (Rube Goldberg style) video. Michael Smith had two videos, one of them titled, “How to Curate your Own Group Exhibition” is hilarious in its de-construction of the whole curatorial effort. Gilbert and George’s singing sculptures video formed an interesting counterpoint to Peter and my Installation. On the one hand Gilbert and George turned themselves into mechanistic autonomatons on the other our anthropomorphized computers tried valiantly to pass as humans.