Yesterday I visited the Whitechapel Art Gallery, on my way back to West London after visiting my sponsor in the fellowship where I am recovering from my addiction. He lives in Bethnal Green and every time I meet him there, it is a good opportunity to have an update on what the area has to offer: bad public transport and pretentious art curating.
I must confess that recently I saw there one of the most interesting shows of the year. I am referring to Berliner Dadaist, Hannah Hoch. The show was a photomontage tour de force that suggested specific associations between the visual and the cognitive. In other words, this show allowed us to see how the eye has to travel (and not necessarily in a linear way) when two photos are put side by side. The only problem with a show exclusively dedicated to Dada is that it might risk boring the viewer for all that fragmentation might come across as sheer uniformity.
The show that is now on at the Whitechapel is Chris Marker’s ‘A Grin Without a Cat’ and It would not to far fetched to see it as a continuation of Hannah Hoch’s, if only because of its obsession with fragments. Having said this, if we put the previous show in the context of the current one, both seem to convey a fascination for the lack of unity or, in other words, the rejection of the Apollinean idea. By this I am referring to those artistic expressions that can be understood as autonomous and comprehensive and where all elements find its reason of being in the duration that the performance of viewing (or experiencing) it takes.
French filmmaker Chris Marker (1921-2012) created vivid film essays that lace realism with science fiction and lyricism with politics. His influence extends across art, experimental film and mainstream cinema. Yet he remains relatively unknown to a wider audience. This is in part because of his reclusiveness – he rarely gave interviews, did not allow himself to be photographed and worked under multiple pseudonyms of which Chris Marker is the most well known. When asked for a portrait of himself, he would often send a photograph of a cat.
The fragmentariness, elusiveness and patchiness of his work has made him a legendary figure among aficionados, as if he were the leader of an underground resistance movement. Having said this it is very difficult for me to understand the value of this kind of approach to visual knowledge.
Marker worked as a journalist, essayist and editor before becoming a filmmaker as part of the so called Nouvelle Vague in the late 1950s. He is often given credit for renewing cinema, not least for his innovations in the genre of the ‘essay film’ which is a hybrid of documentary and personal reflection and the style in which he became an acknowledged master. Such hybridity and restless crossing between media and forms made him a sort of Peter Pan of fragmentation and incompleteness. From this point of view, he reminds me of those intellectuals that go from conference to conference presenting very partial papers but can never commit to write a book under the pretext that such an endeavour is very limiting. It is in the collage (montage-like) presentation of this show that one gets lost into a series of gestures and actions that are irrelevant and (like Hoch’s show, a couple of o months ago) seem to matter because they do not matter.
This show comes across as an allegory of the era of Internet where it is almost impossible to focus on a narrative. This is the time of schizophrenic sensations and attention deficit disorders. It is the time where news and knowledge is constructed in twitter through a couple of words that reduce the living experience to a series of slogans. In other words, this shows seems to matter because nothing in it really does. Just a thought.