Sunday, February 1st, 2004

Notes on Jeremy Blake

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.

Jeremy Blake, Reading Ossie Clark, 2003. Six stills from the DVD Courtesy Feigen ContemporaryJeremy Blake, Reading Ossie Clark, 2003. Six stills from the DVD Courtesy Feigen Contemporary

Jeremy Blake, Reading Ossie Clark, 2003. Six stills from the DVD Courtesy Feigen Contemporary
Jeremy Blake, Reading Ossie Clark, 2003. Six stills from the DVD Courtesy Feigen Contemporary

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.

Blake’s references 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 resembles painting.

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.Notes on… Jeremy Blake, by Deven Golden