Series Description

 
Problematizing Pleasure / Punk Theory
Curated by Steve Reinke | 1981 – 1987 | TRT 1:07:18

Possibly in Michigan
Video Details
Cecelia Condit | 1983 | 12:00 | United States | English | Color

Although it has been read as a feminist empowerment tale (the women turning table on their male aggressor), it is on the level of affect rather than plot that Possibly in Michigan is most effective and radical. It problematizes pleasure, mixes delight with dread, until one doesn’t know how or where one is being tickled, or when the tickling is breaking through the skin.

Close Details
Possibly in Michigan
Video Details
Cecelia Condit | 1983 | 12:00 | United States | English | Color

Although it has been read as a feminist empowerment tale (the women turning table on their male aggressor), it is on the level of affect rather than plot that Possibly in Michigan is most effective and radical. It problematizes pleasure, mixes delight with dread, until one doesn’t know how or where one is being tickled, or when the tickling is breaking through the skin.

Close Details
Grand Mal
Video Details
Tony Oursler | 1981 | 23:45 | United States | English | Color | 4:3

Grand Mal mocks human agency: the worm rules, if with a stupid, uncaring blankness. In one section, they — the actual live worms that haunt the video — are meant to run a race, but writhe unconcerned at the starting line as a human voice coaches them on.

Close Details
Damnation of Faust: Will-o'-the-...
Video Details
Dara Birnbaum | 1985 | 05:38 | United States | English | Color

In Damnation of Faust: Will-o’-the-Wisp (A Deceitful Goal), a woman looks out of her window, while the voice over speaks so banally of an absent lover that one cannot be sure how to take this evisceration of German Romanticism.

Close Details
Earthglow
Video Details
Liza Bear | 1983 | 08:00 | United States | English | Color

Liza Béar describes Earthglow as a film about writing, which it most certainly is — the visuals consist entirely of text on screen — but it also about listening. “Earthglow is a film about the writing state of mind; past and present perceptions are reconciled in the act of writing.” It is less in the act of writing that these perceptions are reconciled than in the act of listening.

Close Details
Evocation of Faust: Charming Landscape
Video Details
Dara Birnbaum | 1987 | 07:00 | United States | English | Color

Birnbaum takes things further with the third and final section of the Damnation of Faust Trilogy, Evocation of Faust: Charming Landscape. Here the melancholic subject of European enlightenment is replaced by the already nostalgic subject of engaged documentary practice.

Close Details
Hey Bud
Video Details
Julie Zando | 1987 | 11:00 | United States | English | Color

Hey Bud, along with Julie Zando’s other work, was a touchstone for me and my band of artist friends in Toronto in the late 1980s. It offered for us a muscular intellectual engagement: timely, not prioritizing (to quote Joyce Weiland) reason over passion and, perhaps most importantly: not boring.

Close Details

I was born in 1963, and so the 1980s mean something to me, but I’m not sure what. I think it good, for instance, that I didn’t get AIDS and die. Also, that I only flirted with semiotics. Like cybernetics, which started in the 1950s, grew to dominance in the 1960s and simply faded away in the 1970s, we once believed in semiotics. In the 1980s, it was the way to understand how images contained meanings/produced discourses, and how texts circulate. (How do they circulate? Intertextually.) Perhaps semiotics was the dying gasp of modernism, a conservative strain of modernism posing as postmodernism. The death of the author resulting not in the birth of the reader, but in the birth of a severe, obscure, hermetic semiotician.

Continue reading Steve Reinke's essay Problematizing Pleasure / Punk Theory


Steve Reinke is an artist and writer best known for his videos. His work is screened widely and is part of several collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), the Pompidou (Paris, France), and the National Gallery (Ottawa, Canada).  His videos typically have diaristic or collage formats, and his autobiographical voice overs share his desires and pop culture appraisals with endearing wit. Born in a village in northern Ontario, he is currently Associate Professor of Art Theory & Practice at Northwestern University. In the 1990's he produced the ambitious omnibus The Hundred Videos (1996), and a book of his scripts, Everybody Loves Nothing: Scripts 1997-2005 was published by Coach House (Toronto). He has also co-edited several books, including By the Skin of Their Tongues: Artist Video Scripts (co-edited with Nelson Henricks, 1997),  Lux: A Decade of Artists' Film and Video (with Tom Taylor, 2000), and The Sharpest Point: Animation at the End of Cinema (with Chris Gehman, 2005).

Featured titles

Possibly in Michigan

Possibly In Michigan is an operatic fairytale about cannibalism in Middle America. A masked man stalks a woman through a shopping mall and follows her home. In the end, their roles are reversed when the heroine deposits a mysterious Hefty bag at the curb. Like Condit's other video narratives, Possibly In Michigan shows bizarre events disrupting mundane lives. Combining the commonplace with the macabre, humor with the absurd, she constructs a world of divided reality.

Grand Mal

"Oursler’s thematic concerns betray classic Freudian anxieties about sex and death. In Grand Mal, the hero takes a convoluted odyssey through a landscape of disturbing experiences. The video’s free association includes, "digressions about the difference between salt and sugar and a version of the creation myth that is both banal and terrifying."

— Christine Tamblyn, “Art Notes,” Scan (November/December 1981)

Damnation of Faust: Will-o'-the-Wisp (A Deceitful Goal)

The second part of the Damnation of Faust Trilogy centers on the development of Marguerite, the female character in the Faust legend. Masterfully composing fragmentary "memory" images in elegant 19th Century Japanese compositions, Birnbaum traces the process of deception and abandonment through the heroine’s mournful description of her state of mind. Passing images are suffused with light, obscured in a blinding brightness, to suggest forgetting.

Earthglow is a poem written for the character generator and switcher that conveys a writer's internal dialogue through both subtle and dramatic color changes and through movement, size, and placement of words. The ambient soundtrack evokes the confluence of past and present perceptions.

Evocation of Faust: Charming Landscape

The final work in the Damnation of Faust Trilogy, ironically titled Charming Landscape, investigates the way in which the urban landscape is a place "where you lose your identity.” Two female residents of the inner city tell their stories in casual, on-the-street interviews. Building upon the theme of submerged violence, Birnbaum presents the fiery culmination of the legend in eerie slow-motion collage scenes of political unrest — from the lunchroom protests of Greensboro, NC, to the student revolts in Tiannanmen Square.

Hey Bud

Hey Bud revolves around the suicide of Bud Dwyer, a government official who killed himself before a television audience. Zando compares the suicide to a kind of pornographic sex act that plays upon the tension created between exhibitionist and voyeur. It forces viewers to take either an empathetic position vis-a-vis the exhibitionist, or to act as voyeur through release of the repressed desire to see the forbidden face of Death. The piece attempts to understand the power gained through exhibitionism, and how that power is lost through death. Zando compares the suicide to the position of women who seek power through exhibitionism and exploitation, the price being death of the self.

Resources

Problematizing Pleasure Essay