There is an operation in certain works of art where the hierarchy of the composition is unclear, offering the viewer the agency to compose her interpretation of the work experientially. We could call this operation something like subjective-manoeuvring. Ultimately it is the experience of freedom. I first experienced this through listening to music; however, because the operation is formal and perceptual, it is not medium specific. It also operates in great films, from Tarkovsky to Tati. It also informs my practice as a painter.
With this in mind, Clamour and Toll contrasts the austerity of James Benning’s Twenty Cigarettes with the cacophony of Michael Snow’s New York Eye and Ear Control. It may seem unusual to contrast free jazz bohemianism in New York with straight prairie portraits, but the contrast in content and context illustrates one strategy to facilitate subjective-manoeuvring that I prize: discord.
I admire these two artists and these rigorous films because they present a challenge: they are difficult to watch. But this difficulty only presents a challenge to how we think about looking. For if we really look, the freedom we experience far surpasses the discomfort.
James Benning, Twenty Cigarettes. 2011, HD, 99mins, USA.
Michael Snow, New York Eye and Ear Control. 1964, 16mm, 34mins, Canada.
Clamour and Toll is an ongoing series of performance, sound art, and moving images curated by the painter Eli Bornowsky for the Or Gallery. Each event explores the relation between sensation and intellection of contrasting artistic mediums and experimental practices. www.orgallery.org.
Clamour and Toll is generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts.