The Walk There
Besides Dr. Manual Wilson’s branch of the Bureau of Deacceleration is a peephole into a tiny gray box. Projected onto the back wall of this tiny gray box is a series of very short films. This most recent series of very short films (“for a distracted world” so they say) is grouped together as Bad Translation and is ending February 15. But being grouped together as Bad Translation, and the curator’s description on Peephole Cinema’s website, aren’t relevant. I want to start, to quote the curator, “stripping these videos of their distracting contexts.” They form a gestalt within which lies the plain, the pointless, the preposterous, the pedantic, the ponderous, the pleasing, and the perturbing.
The Plain, Kelsey Bennett’s Babylick
A maroon stain on a belly-like beige surface. Enter a woman – blonde hair, green eyes, ruby lipstick – who ejects an uneven mound from her mouth. Slowly the woman slides her tongue over the mound to reveal, in vitro, a birth. Piece by piece a baby is formed. The act of peeking through the peephole to watch this brings St. Vincent to mind – “Like a birth in reverse/what I saw through the blinds” – while the faux-brightness brings to mind the faux-brightness of Lana Del Ray’s Born To Die aesthetic. Bennett herself stated that discomfort was the aim, and perhaps another might feel discomfort. It does confound expectations. Yet, seeing all 49 seconds, I’m inclined to consider its plainness. Its trick of reversing the process of licking a literal sugar baby into nothing is obvious; its intention is pure sensation (the baby’s taste, the audience’s discomfort); its meaning is explicitly about feminine expectations, the fragile interdependence of mother-child relationships, the empty sweetness of existence. There is no trick, only the experience. This is the defining feature of the plain, that it is geographical. The horizon makes everything plain to see.
The Pointless, Aleia Murawski’s Sunset Living Room
An adult snail sits on a miniature couch besides a baby snail sitting by a miniature doll house and miniature action figure. Through the window, a purple-painted sky. And this goes on and on for about 30 or so seconds until the movie just sort of ends. Why? The title might lead you to believe this is a still-life gone wrong, that Murawski picked up her camera on accident when she meant to grab her brush. This is no mistake, nor a parodic commentary on the impossibility of still-lives. The snails (possibly the same snails) star in the similar music video Murawski created for Bully. In this track Bully sings “and the truth is/that unproductivity haunts me.” The pointless – aka the unproductive, the useless, the aimless – is defined by this sense of being haunted. Pointlessness defers purpose, refers to the absence of purpose, just as a ghost refers to the absence of life in deferring life. Meaningfully Bully’s track is called “Guess There,” an explicit deferral. When we think of those quiet moments of wonder we often think of sitting with loved ones by a sunset: an act without a goal. But in hyper-capitalism the pointless, the unproductive, take on a ghostly aspect. It is something we always feel without ever experiencing. The pointless defers what it refers to.
The Preposterous, Sholim’s Dreams
The preposterous is not a rejection of reality, but the existence of an unfamiliar nature. Surreality and the preposterous are therefore soul mates, though not everything surreal is preposterous. That which is truly preposterous is exceedingly difficult to describe coherently – one can describe Dali’s The Persistence of Memory easily as “that melting clock painting” but lack the words for Tanguy’s Indefinite Divisibility. This is because the preposterous reveals a new order. Laws aren’t obliterated as much as rewritten; a viewer of the preposterous is akin to an artist trying to piece together scientific jargon by speaking it. It is incoherence. Sholim’s GIF collages fall into the preposterous in this way. They’re as rotational individually as they are as a whole mimicry of the assembly line, its only recognizable facet. Individuals infinitely return from whence they came. A man rises out of a face boil to enter a door behind an eye and reappear from the face boil; A woman’s transparent facial structure shows a man whose face is a beating heart, zooms in, zooms out. Thus the preposterous creates a recycling effect: struggling to comprehend, the viewer retraces their steps, searching for breadcrumbs in an off-kilter nature.
The Pedantic, Albert Omoss’ Mutualism
Two 3d renders of human shapes begin to wrap around each other like plastic bags colliding in high winds. They become, in words take from Jorie Graham’s “What The End Is For,” “…what we must have wanted to be:/shapes the shapelessness was taking back.” Combined with the title, this erasure is Omoss teaching us mutualism. We are taught that the end is for obliterating what you wish to preserve in order to preserve it. It is absorbing the external, inevitably distorting it into the internal. Which gives the principle of mutualism an oppressive air – the once beneficial biological act and radical anarchist theory becomes another way of committing violence in the name of self-preservation. Is this not also the nature of the pedantic? Teacher and pupil form an ecosystem of mutual consumption, of mutually assured destruction and resurrection; if this were not the case, why else would people contrast their image of the foppish college with a “school of hard knocks” as if like for like? In the act of being taught mutualism through a violent intertwining, our own perceptions of mutualism is intertwined violently through this teaching. This is the pedantic.
The Ponderous, Cool3DWorld’s A Life Well Lived
The ponderer is the self-aware pedant and the ponderous is the pedantic in a reflexive mode. In this sense it’s a doubled consciousness – a consciousness observing a consciousness cognizing (a self-consuming re-cognizing). So it’s fitting that this film should be the longest at 1 minute 27 seconds. A 3D render of a child is born, finds love, works on a farm, grows old, and dies. Simple. But much like the characters’ malformed shapes, recognizably human and explicitly fake, the story works like an abrasive against itself. The baby, on entering the world, looks at the camera. The baby in the crib, and later the child in the class, do bicep curls in a manner as robotic as their expressions. After meeting his love interest they run, generically, t-posing, through a field of dandelions. They grow old on a farm (why did he want to farm and where he learned to farm become unsettling questions in this voided world) until they exist only as nudes in rocking chairs. She becomes a skeleton, he ascends. He slides back into the non-existence of the womb – In a mirror of birth, observing us. Surely another moment of “birth in reverse.” But the ponderous, unlike the horizon of the plain, is a mountaintop. It is the stillness of recurrence. A loop. One half of the Cool3DWorld duo, Brian, is a musician whose self titled album ends with a highly processed performance of “Dido’s Lament.” It is as recognizably human and explicitly fake as this film, and it’s fitting this is the track Brian chose to recreate: Dido, on thinking of herself without Aeneas, thinking of herself thinking about his absence, decides to stab herself on a funeral pyre; signifying her earthly attachment to Aeneas by ascension – up the pyre, up in smoke. She sings, begging her sister to “remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Yet it is not her, but her fate, we remember – how else to explain the creation of the Purcell Opera or its Puccini duplicate 100 years later in Madama Butterfly? And is it not the case that for a well lived life, one without tragedy, great loss, or regrets, that there is nothing but the person entire to recall? Such is the view from the mountaintop where all below is discrete and whole.
The Pleasing, Beeple’s Fluff
Very few affects are as empty as the pleasing. It is somewhere between enjoyable and acceptable, and is narcissistic. “I am pleased,” it says, “what else can be said?” Yet this is precisely what I felt watching the mossy, ray-traced, wilderness shimmy around a yonic light. In its narcissism, the pleasing exposes you to yourself. It is simpler even than a like button. There is no social politics to navigate, no internal struggle over authenticity, action, and exhibition. It is as simple as watching an impossibly fake but entirely real nature exist, thinking “I am pleased. What else can be said?” This is the defining feature of the pleasing.
The Perturbing, Zolloc’s Look
On a salmon background, a 3D render of a peach, humanoid face stares back with white iris and dark pupil. Of all the videos, this fits best in the peephole. It evokes the peephole. You step, as I did, from the cinematic into the voyeuristic. Think Rose Hobart. It brings the self into the spotlight: Per (through) + turba (turmoil, crowd). Its fitting that Zolloc refers to this piece as an “eye test” on Instagram. It has an unfinished quality much as a carrot for a stew isn’t intended for singular consumption, although can be. And this is why it fits best in the peephole – the act of looking through a peephole unconsciously brings us most to ourselves. Whether it be a sitcom child peeking into a locker room or a person nervously checking who’s knocking at their apartment door, the attention siphoned through a fisheye lens is an attention to oneself that is externalized. What if I’m caught, the child thinks. What if it’s danger, the person in the apartment thinks. Peeping is a paranoid act then, and this humanoid figure looking back reminds us of the paranoia involved. The perturbed is defined by this paranoia that becomes self-aware. In the rawest possible state do we act, and perturbation is a magnifying lens that both reflects our image and weaponizes the sun’s heat of attention.
The Walk Away
As the world develops through a totalizing and technological present without end, a perpetual moment wherein excess is assumed as prototypical in phrases like #YOLO, minor affects become heightened aspects. What Sianne Ngai describes as “Non-cathartic feelings that index situations of suspended agency” take hold of us precisely because they become the beachhead contrast to the burnout excess of the contemporary. It’s their suspending nature one desires. Both because they’re radically comforting in with their lack of aggression and because their state of suspended agency is not radically different from the negative suspension of anxiety we presently feel. In this transgressing progression we perhaps live in an echo of history. Just as during the turn of the 19th century Romanticism invoked and challenged the Enlightenment, and during the turn of the 20th century Futurism invoked and challenged Romanticism, the 21st century is seeing a kind of Petitism invoke and challenge Futurism.
Instead of that violent, voracious, and racing desire for progression on a world scale, we slow down to look through a peephole into a tiny gray box for 5 minutes. We aim to become distracted from a distracted world. We realize this is, however accurate, a bad translation of our intent. We do what Whitman suggested we do over a century ago. We loaf and invite our soul. Maybe we think as the curator would have it, that works viewed in Peephole Cinema “denounce context as a necessary feature for understanding and appreciating artwork.” We enjoy the time with our feelings, nevertheless. So we turn to see the doors of a bureau with no internet presence and are left to imagine its representative (as many of him as of us) reminding us that spaceship earth has a brake pedal too. Dr. Manual Wilson: Manual, by hand; Wilson, desire’s son.