Posts Tagged ‘reality’

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Glass House, a photo series by James Welling on-view at the David Zwirner gallery in New York, consists of sixteen large-scale framed prints and six smaller framed prints.

Each of the prints depicts either the Modernist “Glass House” residence designed by Philip Johnson in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut or further architectural and sculptural elements located on the forty-seven acres of the House’s grounds.

In each digitally-captured image on view through the gallery’s white-walled rooms, the artist experiments with a wide range of lens filtration techniques, resulting in lushly-saturated colors grading over the figure of a giant glass cube (or similarly Modernist iconography) in the midst of the pastoral Connecticut landscape.

Despite the presence of varying seasons and light conditions portrayed throughout the photographs, though, the project as a whole projects a feeling of day-dreamy late-afternoon melancholy and reads in dialog with certain late 1960s psychedelic album covers or the lens flare effects favored by certain European cinematographers of the same era.

Digging a bit deeper into the work, though, one begins to view the significance of these images beyond their somewhat nostalgic sensual power.

First of all, the key technical variable is the variation of filters between the artist’s camera lens and his subject matter.

As one views through the twenty-two photographs on-display here, one begins to view their filters and their filtering (as they are the primary agent of change between the individual photographs in the series) as much as one views their subject matter (the Glass House).

The decision to photograph this particular building is decisive as it illuminates a framework around which to view the process of filtering.

In a project picturing various filtrations on the landscape, the “transparent” glass of the Glass House becomes visible as just one more of these filters – one more obstruction between one’s self and “reality.”

This becomes more intriguing when one considers that the Glass House, in particular – as an idealized model of Modernist ideology – sought to provide a neutral, objective, totally transparent space through which one could look out onto the world.

However, as history has demonstrated, the Modernist vision of objective transparency is hardly without a point of view; it is, indeed, a wildly distinct lens through which to filter one’s view on reality – no better nor worse than any of the varieties of filters employed by Welling through the series (which is fine [it’s not as though there’s something that would be more objective]).

Finally, with all of this in mind, the work offers one more (unintended) kick.

Moving through the gallery space, one views the photographs – yes; but one also views the glare of the glass filter between themselves – as viewers – and the photographic print:

A “neutral, objective, totally transparent” window reflecting back one’s own contextualization in the “neutral, objective, totally transparent” space of the white cube in which all of this is occurring.

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

In the film Avatar, the audience may be responding less to special effects or political messages and more to the dramatization of the following uncanny phenomenon:

1. The inhabitation of a different form-of-being accompanied by the immediate rejection of any preliminary advice or testing concerning the operation of this form; aching to run wild.

2. The accompanying understanding that when one inhabits an avatar, one is, then, burdened with responsibility because – as it turns out – one simultaneously inhabits a broader spiritual network of avatars – each of which exists through both their “avatar bodies” as well as this network.

One is not free, but rather cast from one political context to another. A tension here is that, while the film makes this phenomenon into the stuff of science-fiction myth (like a wise old man’s warning about a world wherein this experience could occur, but, thankfully, hasn’t yet), the drama of Avatar is a very actually-occurring phenomenon requiring a thorough exploration of the ripples it sends through daily experience.

Avatar is the daily grind of logging-on-to the Web, negotiating the management of one’s virtual persona as well as this persona’s relation to the databased network. The problem with the idea of dramatizing these phenomena as if they were an actual part of “real life,” though, is that the pictures one has in their minds of “realism” doesn’t include the Internet or virtual experiences.

“Real life” is the alcoholic mother, the lonely small-town basketball coach, not the Internet avatar.

In the history of literature, though, certain authors have developed a “third way” in-between what looks to the viewer like a work of “realism” and what looks to the viewer like a work of “science-fiction”.

Crash by J.G. Ballard, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, and VALIS by Philip K. Dick; they double as a form of literary stream-of-consciousness sci-fi and sharp-eyed, stick-to-the-facts reportage of the contemporary scene; and as the reader shuttles between these understandings of the work, the understandings themselves may blur as mutated pictures of what one means when they say “realism” or “science-fiction” emerge.

Monday, March 29th, 2010

In the film Greenberg, Ben Stiller’s character sees the world as false and meaningless and he’s bitter about this, resulting in a form of nihilism.

In the same film, Greta Gerwig’s character sees the world the same way, but, instead of bemoaning this or going on a quixotic quest for truth or certainty, her character seems to say you that you should rather begin with the knowledge that you’re obviously, automatically just playing at reality and then mean that playing as if it was real.

By acting with conviction (meaning what you say to the best of your ability), your actions then become real and this is the only way to deal with things.

According to the film critic A.O. Scott, Greta Gerwig herself is:

embarked on a project, however piecemeal and modestly scaled, of redefining just what it is we talk about when we talk about acting.


He says:

She will play – that’s what acting is – but she will also mean what she says.


In a key scene from Greenberg, Gerwig recounts a story, which is told like a dream, in which she and a friend play (or “like, are”) these “slut” characters who let themselves be picked up by random guys at a bar.

Her point (as broken and dream-like as it sounds) is that she is not really that girl, but when she played that girl like she meant it she became that girl because that’s what happens when you mean the part you play.

As she tells this to Greenberg, she looks at him with equal parts longing and hysteria as if to say:

I’m sorry I’m telling you this, but this is – to the best I can tell – my situation – my un-real real situation.


This is her philosophy.

NOTE: This post was inspired by Stanley Cavell’s The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (1971).

Friday, February 5th, 2010

In the film Camera Buff, the eponymous protagonist begins to film reality.

The more he films reality, though, the stricter his criteria for “reality” becomes.

It is not enough for him to film events that are meant to be filmed.

He has to film the events that are not meant to be filmed, as well.

The catch is that as the camera buff comes closer to capturing something “real,” the farther away from his wife and child he grows until they are simply outside of his world.

Thus, his real life is destroyed and a new real is born.

What happened here?

The film’s answer is that in filming reality, the filming of reality changed that reality.

A world is gained.

A world is lost.

Camera Buff’s claim is that one cannot know if this gaining and losing is for the better or for the worse – all one can do is acknowledge it as change and give it significance.