Reading Ossie Clark 2003
six stills from the DVD
Courtesy Feigen Contemporary
Can video become the
new painting? Not just in the art scene, where video takes an
ever larger slice of the exhibition pie, but in the aesthetic
sense as well. "Autumn Almanac," a recent show by Jeremy
Blake at Feigen in Chelsea has me wondering.
Blake included some
small paintings, as well as one of the terrific large photo collages
that first brought him to attention. But as with his last couple
of exhibitions the signature piece was a knockout video projection
in the main gallery. Filling one entire wall, "Reading Ossie
Clark," 2003, is a nine minute loop of overlaid images obliquely
referencing the life of 60/70s British fashion superstar Ossie
Clark. It is Blake's most representational work to date, and one
of his most ambitious.
Images of Clark and
Twiggy-like models, along with other pop imagery from the time,
blend, merge, bleed, and seep into one another, all tied together
by a psychedelic mélange of high key colors. More poetry
than prose, the narration by Clarissa Dalrymple (viewers can choose
to watch with or without the voice over) is a rambling series
of excerpts from Ossie Clark's diary, including references to
the famous people that Clark mingled with and prodigious amounts
of drugs consumed.
and quotations from Clark's diary aside, "Reading Ossie Clark"
is hardly just another episode of Biography. With its disembodied
narration and jumbled images, one would be hard pressed to find
literal meaning. But the texture of the times is indelibly etched;
"Reading Ossie Clark" gives as full an impression in
nine minutes of the milieu it covers as Ted Demme's 2001 film
"Blow" does in 2 hours. It can do this because, in spite
of its physical resemblance to film, structurally it more closely
Film is linear, a structural
characteristic it shares with music, literature, dance, theatre,
and poetry. That is, they all have this in common: a beginning,
middle, and an end. Because "Reading Ossie Clark" is
a video, there is a logical tendency to think of it as film, with
all of the critical and historical criteria that would naturally
accompany that assessment. But there are key elements that belie
that analysis and suggest that the more proper criteria for comparison
may be painting.
Painting offers a system
where the content is circular, not linear, a structural characteristic
it shares with sculpture, photography and drawing. You can enter
a painting anywhere and exit wherever you wish. Paintings can
be viewed for minutes, hours, days, or merely out of the corner
of your eye as you move through a room. In short, it affords a
non-judgmental compression or expansion of the participant's interaction
time. Blake and a handful of other video artists would adopt painting's
circular content over film's linear one.
When did video art
begin to move away from film and toward a separate identity? As
early as the mid-seventies, artists in universities began using
computers to edit and manipulate video on computers - Dan Sandin's
Image Processor, created in 1973 at the University of Illinois,
was one of the early examples. (Feeling nostalgic? click
here). Even as primitive as the first Sandin Image Processor
was by current standards, it allowed artists a way to easily alter
and edit live video in real time - without the delay, limitations,
or costs of using film labs. Today any artist with a personal
computer and a couple of hundred dollars worth of software has
nearly professional grade video editing at their finger tips.
Jeremy Blake was born in 1971, he grew up using computers.