lan Segal – An Interrupted Investigation of R
2017, 13:49 min
Alan Segal is Buenos-Aires based artist whose work has been shown internationally at BIENALSUR (the South America Contemporary Art Biennial), Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Hessel Museum of Art (New York, USA), The Kitchen (New York, USA), Wroclaw Art Center (Wroclaw, Poland), Blau Projects (São Paulo, Brazil), Ausstellungsraum Klingental (Basel, Switzerland), Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin, Viennale (Vienna Film Festival) and the New York Film Festival.
Q: In our preliminary conversation you had said that being an artist is a disruptive way to be. “Disruptive” opens in both directions: towards the surrounding, disrupting it, and towards you as the person that is the artist, being disrupted. (I am kind of queasy from all the related words: art practice, art, artist, career, etc, but I am trying to power through it.) Both you and I have in common that art is a turn of a spiral: a way a continuing in a certain direction but at a new wavelength, outgrowth of an old career and simultaneously a new career entirely; or if career as vocabulary is too archaic or professionalized – a new way of working or making, or even of living. Could you expand here on your past projects and your choice to change or recalibrate, below.
A: I think I was immersed in the task of planning my year when we spoke earlier in January, or at least thinking about it. That quickly sketched out mental schedule allowed me to understand that during the year I would have to navigate different spaces: commercial, institutional and informal ones, and I would always find my practice (and maybe myself) to be slightly off-key in each of those contexts. This need for constant adjustment to a misalignment can be considered as the first degree of disruption of the practice. Art as a human activity sphere, has not been clearly defined by any one culture to date, so it’s singular objective is impossible to summarize. In a way, art is a predictable and perhaps, needed, degree of disruption to the everyday flow. However, there is another level, where the mapping out of financial trail and metabolism associated with the circulation of art that raised certain anguish in me. The participation in the function of this metabolism involves changes in the diet, sleeping habits, re-adjusting economic resources, housing conditions and languages.
The idea of transition seems to be entirely present in my experience as an artist — transition from one state to another. Or perhaps the need to cross critical thresholds which leads one to a state of stability that is not necessarily final. Perhaps other ways of describing this process can also be found through assimilation or camouflage. But in the background, the precarious and the provisional hold a central part of that experience.
An artist, to me, is a subject capable of changing, or rather, it is a subject that deliberately and repeatedly submits to these processes of change through fascination with something that can exist in different states or can be present at different levels.
Q: You expressed a concern over continued silencing on topics of wealth and resources of the people partaking in the art and culture and proposed that it would be interesting to create a map of artist resources (who had what when they began their art practice – I would add citizenship and working visas to this equation). Many films from the Argentine New Wave you took part in as editor are not only continuing eurocentric traditions as you have outlined to me, but also in my opinion continue the eroticize the narratives of Bourgeois ennui. I would be very interested in hearing of how you see the film and art scene in BA and what you think is happening there now and what you wish to see change or gain a momentum.
A: Here I think it is important to consider the specifics of post-colonial conditions of Argentina. Post-colonialism as a term seems to primarily include discussions on decolonizing of African and Asian colonies, and South America it is only tangentially addressed there. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the perception around this part of the world is always flattened into the vague concept of the Global South.
Argentina represents a particular case. Intellectuals from the post-independence period regarded Argentina, and specifically Buenos Aires, as the embodiment of European civilization in a predominantly barbarous Spanish American environment. This idea, or this identity program, penetrated deeply into the social and cultural fabric. It is some weird type of never-healing wound. In a voluntary or non-voluntary way, with nostalgia or regret, ideas and behaviors structured around this European fantasy can easily emerge or still be present in the cultural production of Argentina (especially the ones that come from Buenos Aires). All these productions take place in an intermittent stream or process of post-occidentalism. Despite the fact that I edited some of the (ed. Argentine New Wave) films, I prefer to continue considering myself as a satellite or peripheral figure of that scene: a position that I actively tried to build.
Kékszakállú (Gastón Solnicki, 2016), the film I edited in 2016,explores the architecture of leisure and the economic structures that make that leisure possible. I believe that one of Gastón’s more valuable gestures is to reveal that shameful nature and origin of the money trail and its class condition. While this apparently class indolence is eroticized, it is also a way to construct an image that precedes something terrible; this type of wealth cannot be unbound from the family traumas.
Q: Your practice is what I would describe as restrained: your instagram account is a research place and an extension of your practice rather than what it is for many, in North America in particular, a sort of marketing tool. Although showing snippets of research can be a type of marketing tool too. What I’m interested in is: why do you never give credit on it? I am always trying to find out what IT IS you just posted!
A: An early mistake occupies a prominent place here. For one of my first posts (the second one to be more precise), I made a montage of two movies. I used the audio of a scene from “Indecent Proposal” (Adrian Lyne, 1993) where Woody Harrelson’s character gives an inspiring architectural class. He repeats like a mantra “Even a brick wants to be something” while he shows a series of slides on emblematic and monumental architectural works, in a clear positivist progression. The images are from “Zum Vergleich” (Harun Farocki, 2009) where different traditions of brick production around the world are exposed in an austere but efficient way to show social differences, which are also economic, technological, cultural and political.
Both films are uncredited in that post. Of course, this saturation of content and over-laboring did nothing but reveal my ignorance, my total neophyte condition using the Instagram.
Eventually, through my Instagram account, I found a place for a habit that preceded its existence; watching movies, not in a video player but in the editing software itself. This usage allows me to separate, collect and save images or sequences that are relevant to current researches. Or to keep images that generates the desire for specific selection and archiving. A routine that is very similar to highlight a book.
By making these excerpts public, I’m able to explore two tones or ways that I felt I wanted to study in my work: the so-called forces of sensuality and disappointment. The absence of credits allows me to create some dissatisfaction at the time of consumption of these images, not only because they do not satisfy a certain curiosity, but because they also return to their purpose of being slightly disorienting, or at least unclear. It also allows for creating a space of indeterminacy between images from commercials, movies, video installations, etc. Something that I frequently explore in my practice.
I’d like to highlight that in order to release the forces of disappointment, there also a component of laziness in the absence of credits. I don’t like typing on my phone, mainly because the capitalization and the inclusion of signs and glyph are programmed in a very uncomfortable/inconvenient way and it also can be very demanding of the cervical.
Q. How does your research and archiving or reference accumulation methods continues or transforms into a language/vocabulary (if you have one), in your work? I am personally drawn to your work because of its pace – slowed. How does it feel to you?
A: Editing is a highly manipulative practice; it is related to administering/dosing information, tensions and time. At the same time, it is a task that implies active speculation about the expectations and attention of the viewer. This speculation has to do with anticipating reactions or creating the conditions for a particular response. Depending on what I surmise as the objectives that I start from in a work, I sometimes choose to defraud or satisfy these expectations.
In “An interrupted Investigation of R” (2017), the editing becomes the primary tool to shape the emotional tone of the piece. I was interested in achieving through time management the psychic temperature of loneliness and sadness, which were a needed counterpoint to an epistemological intrigue that I was in process of devising in this work. On the contrary, in my work “Internacia Lingvo” (2017) my goal was to generate a dehumanized pace, an odd rhythm through the imposition of a structure that precedes the template. In “Key, Washer, Coin” (2018) the editing alternates between disappointment of expectation and sensual modes, overlapped with the tropes of commercial editing and its immediate satisfaction strategies with the collateral result of solemnly austere technical expression.
I received strict training as a narrative editor where the dramatic conflict and the preservation of the diegesis were the two main pillars of the editing method I had learned. Over time, I allowed myself to distrust these hegemonic conventions and to develop my own editorial language in which the modulation of the explicitness of manipulation is the essential factor.
After being exposed to a tool for a long time, some experience coagulates in the form of balance. One of these solidified ideas is that the editing function is instrumental in simulating control, or in rendering objectivity or a pantomime of order.The simulation of a system (the suggestion of an inner logic that I had learned as a narrative editor) involves the same amount of work as design of a new system. However, the first task is burdened with dishonesty. I am interested in exploring editing as a device for administering the oscillation between fraudulent materials and notion of innocence within the same piece.
Q. Your work looks at the details, macro, it’s way of looking is zoom, cropping. How do you see it?
These zoom or cropping choices have to do with my interest in the dosing of information (again). For example, when framing, I approach a scene with the purpose of removing from the image what is not necessary, cleaning the noise from the signal. The limits of the frame (borders) are more active elements than the position of the camera (distance) in relation to the objects in my work. This is a cold and detached method that helped me to create a certain analytical tone. I am currently interested in inverting the charge of the binomial “frame borders/distance” which the proximity will command. Using your words, it would be a macro approach instead of a zoom (from a distance) or crop (a posteriori) ones. I would like to know what would happen if the same method are approached in a more warm and filthy way.
Q. As far as substrates – I am interested in persisting focus of some (particularly art film) festivals on showing “film only” as in celluloid. What is your position in regards to film vs. digital way of working, how do you direct your workflow in choosing your moving image materiality, format, etc?
A: I’m not particularly attached to any process. My early choice of digital was a matter of access in the first place. Film (and all the processes that it involves) can be much more expensive and prohibitive in Argentina. The limits imposed by the conditions of production are a structure that I like to understand as a potential substitute for the script. I also chose to understand working digitally as a given, an external decision that I felt was futile to challenge and at the same time the ubiquity and accessibility of it helped me to avoid fetishizing the medium I was working within. Problems and obstacles make the language expand. I am starting a project with the Chilean artist Pilar Quinteros for which we decided to work in 16 mm. It will be my first time working with film. Although I have formal expectations and logistical concerns, what interests me most is the possibility of creating a piece where the date of its provenance is difficult to read. For this project the quality gained by the use of historical technologies will allow us to create a field of indistinction between the timelines. The resulting timeline confusion as related to the date when the piece is being produced is useful to our forthcoming project as a some kind collapse of the perception of time.
Q. You had voiced to me a concern that at times you feel that having a sort of private language and a visual vocabulary that is your own, is a form of reticence, and you fear it could appear obtuse or be misread as a refusal to be legible. Though legibility is impossible to forecast unless we resort to formulas (and many filmmakers do). I would like to hear your take on opacity and clarity, as you consider these polarities or nuances.
I believe that this concern had surfaced (or at least was accentuated) when I began to show my work in North American context. I remember an early studio visit where the word “generosity” played a key and pivotal role in the discussion of my work. I found the use of that word, which referred to a specific way of communicating, somewhat strange. But then I discovered that it was a fairly commonly used term, which is quite symptomatic and descriptive of that particular locale’s artistic scene. It re-enforces a specific way the generosity is associated with, for example, narrative arch, and is expected from someone working with a moving image. The modulation of this generosity through video elements is something that I am interested in devising with a great deal of attention. These modulation that I make always have an air of a prototype, since their effectiveness is difficult to measure.
In the comments track to his film Three Women, Robert Altman exposes his strategy, or at least the one he used in the 70s. According to him, it is important to give the public an early element to hold on to, a familiar narrative, a conventional piece of information, only to mislead them later. This simple move frees him to make weird and unexpected decision for the rest of the film, meandering and free of plot. He has described it as a way to satisfy some initial anxiety of the viewer. Of course, this trickery makes much more sense in the context of a practice environment when it is even more linked to the entertainment market, where the commercial aspect of it is even more explicit. When my projects work with polarities of saturating the informational output or on flip side, exaggerating the image’s reticent economy of expression, I need to remember to ask myself if am I providing a crack to enter into either of these modes of expression.
Q. Michael Bell Smith is someone’s whose work I thought of when watching your latest video – Washer Coin, though to me the works are clearly made by people with distinctly different histories. How do you see your own and MBS approach to topic of “ways of seeing” filtering, special effects, image construction and modification? What is your position on adding to image flow as an artist?
A: I think that with Michael Bell-Smith we mainly share the tool or the scope of work: the computer. This tool like any other, takes part in our practices, and provides metaphorical models or at least a vocabulary and a set of images that slip into the conceptual discourse, one we elaborate on in each of our works. An important contribution of this tool was in helping (ed. contemporary filmmakers and artists) to establish the nonlinear nature of the construction of images and meaning. From modal to non-modal interfaces, to editing programs and, of course, to image manipulation, vertical and simultaneous production techniques became increasingly present.
In “Key, washer, coin” (2018) new layers of images (filters) are added over a sequence and, the same happens to the sound. It is a project that grew out of curiosity about the relationship between language and transactions. That’s why it was critical to analyze commercial images and language management processes at the same time. Advertisement shorts, graphic design pieces, marketing texts are rarely mistaken as art. That is due to a congenital wound: those forms can not cover up their commercial nature, the evident and immediate presence of the money.
There is an important difference between the work of MBS and my work: we pay attention to different spaces of image production. While in Michael Belle-Smith’s work there is a particular focus on what he calls “internet folk art”, my work observes in detail the functioning of various production spaces linked to the technical, scientific and commercial image production. We could use a market terminology here to clarify this comparison: images produced by the consumer/prosumer sector versus the images created by the professional sector. I am not outlining this as any kind of hierarchy, but our research interests simply take different cultural material as their departure point.
Q: What are you reading now?
As part of a new project I am re-reading “The Embedding” a novel by Ian Watson that I discovered by chance. With a reading group that never manages to get together, we are reading “Intelligence and Spirit” by Reza Negarestani. Finally, I made some progress with “Programmed Visions. Software and Memory” by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, that laid untouched next to my bed for several months.