1. logbook
      August 2013

      Seeing Meaning

      Jacob Korczynski
    2.             Since launching my research that develops a dialogue between the feminist strategies at work in Lucy Lippard’s novel I See/You Mean (1979) and Babette Mangolte’s film The Camera: Je/La Camera: I (1976-77) in Amsterdam last January, I have returned to Toronto. The history of contemporary art in this city is also a history of artists’ film and video, producing a range of critical practices which have engaged both autobiography and self-portraiture. This play between the two modes has informed the practices of artists from Suzy Lake to Colin Campbell. A line from those artists can be traced directly to the generation that followed including Steve Reinke, and Deirdre Logue. Writing about the practice of the latter, the former succinctly outlined the two modes:

      “Autobiography is a retrospective narrative told in the first person in which the author, narrator and implied author coincide. Moreover, autobiography has the goal of arriving, through its backward journey, at a true or authentic self-knowledge, the subject’s profound, inner core. Typically, the autobiography is prose.

      The self-portrait is typically an image: painting, photograph. In writing, the self-portrait is often referred to as a sketch, and tends to be more descriptive than narrative.

      The act of autobiography is not active, not performative, but reflective. Autobiography requires an act of removal. The subject must step out of the narrative stream of life events and recount, remember, reflect from a position that is inactive, neutral, removed. In autobiography, introspection is retrospection. The self-portrait is not retrospective, but relatively speaking, immediate, in the present.”1

                  As a work of prose, I See/You Mean appears to engage primarily with autobiography. It is structured by two dominant modes of writing: descriptions of fictional photographs charting the relationships of two women and two men (known in the novel as A, B, D, and E respectively) and a collage of texts appropriated from a range of sources (from Dan Graham to the Radicalesbians Collective).

                  As a series of images, The Camera: Je/La Camera: I appears to engage primarily with self-portraiture. It is structured into two halves: Mangolte photographs a series of subjects in the interior of a studio and then she moves the camera out doors and into the streets of New York City to film and photograph the cityscape as it unfolds around her.

                  Despite Reinke aligning autobiography with narrative and self-portraiture against it, both Lippard’s novel and Mangolte’s film simultaneously explore and resist the logic of narrative. In each, the narrative is premised upon the absence/presence of the author, whether this is by proxy (A in I See/You Mean as a fictionalized version of Lippard herself) or by removing oneself from their own self-portrait entirely (while Mangolte operates the camera in The Camera: Je/La Camera: I and her voice can be heard from behind it she never steps out in front of it). At the same time, the production of the image as text and the making of photographs disrupt the narrative of the novel and film in order to focus on the logic of its own making.

      In 1976, the same year that Babette Mangolte was photographing The Camera: Je/La Camera: I, her friend and collaborator Yvonne Rainer appeared on a panel at the Edinburgh Film Festival to address narrative in artists’ films. In doing so, she circumvented binary oppositions and posited the practice of a third space:

      “I suppose that there have always been those works that can rightfully be called neither narrative nor nonnarrative, works that share both narrative and nonnarrative characteristics. In such a work there may come a point where you realize that the point of departure, or center of gravity, or stylistic mode has drifted, forcing you to shift your attention and look or read with a new frame of reference. For example, a series of events containing answers to when, where, why, whom, gives way to a series of images, or maybe a single image, which, in its obsessive repetitiveness or prolonged duration or rhythmic predictability or even stillness, becomes disengaged from story and enters another realm, call it catalogue, demonstration, lyricism, poetry, or pure research. The work now floats free of ultimate climax, pot of gold, pay-off, future truth, existing solely in the present.”2

      Here, I would like to assert that both I See/You Mean and The Camera: Je/La Camera: I strategically deploy shifts of form, where the production of the image in each is an encounter in the present. When encountering the photo descriptions in Lippard’s novel the causality of the narrative falls away, and we find ourselves struggling to assemble an image from the textual description. We may form it in our mind, but the limits of language leave lacunae. When watching the production of still photographs in Mangolte’s film the relationship between photographer and subject unravels, and we find that it is us, not Mangolte facing the models who expect instruction, and return our gaze each time the film is projected.

      Image, after image, afterimage.

      1 Reinke, S., 'Against Autobiography,' accessed 23 July 2013, http://deirdrelogue.com/Writing/steve_reinke.html.

      2 Rainer, Y., 'A Likely Story,' in A Woman Who–: Essays, Interviews, Scripts, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, p. 137.

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