1. Text

      Lütticken S., ‘A Movie and Other Pictures’, 2012

      Sven Lütticken
    2. The following text is the introduction of a research essay Sven Lütticken is writing on the early performative practice of Louise Lawler, in the framework of If I Can’t Dance’s Performance in Residence programme. Following the presentation of ‘A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture’ on 12 June 2012, Lütticken and Lawler will work on a further development of the project that will finalise in 2013.

      Recent years have seen a marked increase in scholarly and theoretical interest in the afterlife of ephemeral performance and dance pieces. How are performances remembered and reconstructed after the fact? If critics and scholars once treated the “actual” performance as privileged event-site and relegated all mediations to secondary status, the process of mediation has now come to be seen as an integral element of performative practices—oral and written accounts, film and video are not derivatives of the “real” artwork, but provide access to it even while (re)shaping it. In her study of Yvonne Rainer, Carrie Lambert-Beatty foregrounds the fact that her object of study is “a series of traces, shaped and serially reshaped by the interests, desires, and ways of seeing of everyone from the artist to the photographer who documented the events to the historian herself.”

      Meanwhile, “performance” itself is no longer exclusively identified with live pieces dominated by one or two performers executing certain acts or a choreography. Benjamin Buchloh argues that “performativity” has entered painting in two ways: on the one hand, as with Yves Klein, it meant that the artist became a public performer; on the other hand, and more fruitfully, it led to the redefinition of paintings as being themselves performative, as “as acts, practices, moments that were part of a linguistic system, of a discursive system, that at each time could be redefined and repositioned in regard to both spectator and participant-practitioner.” This twofold understanding of the performative seems highly relevant to the “pictures” art of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The artworks in question were undoubtedly produced and received as part of a discursive system and often staged in ways that foregrounded and problematized the interplay between work and spectator-participants. One of the goals of the 2009 Pictures Generation exhibition was to restore the performative dimension to this art. As curator Douglas Eklund put it: “These videos, slide projections, live musical performances, and multipart photographic pieces ‘perform’ images in a variety of theatrical settings.”

      In 1979, Louise Lawler organized A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. What does it mean to “show” a movie “without the picture”? In analyzing this highly particular performance, as well as its later iterations and a number of related pieces, I want to analyse Lawler’s picture-performances in a manner that articulates their qualities and contradictions in a manner that goes beyond Eklund’s valid but rather loose observations on the performative aspects of “Pictures” art. In exploring the constellation formed by A Movie…’s various versions and a number of other Lawler projects, I want to delineate the manner in which Lawler’s practice partakes in and articulates shifts taking place in cultural production in the late 70s and early 80s. My focus is on pieces that take the form of ephemeral performative interventions, and often involve some form of printed matter (in the form of announcements, posters, or matchbooks), rather than the canonical photographs of “arrangements of pictures.”

      In this endeavour I can build on a number of sensitive readings of her practice, and particularly its performative dimensions, by authors including Ann Goldstein and Rhea Anastas, as well as Andrea Fraser. In a dialogue with George Baker, Fraser has revisited her early appreciation of Lawler’s work, as manifested in her 1985 essay In and Out of Place, and affirmed that she read Lawler’s practice as a performative one, consisting of “Arranging pictures, producing matchbooks, issuing gift certificates, sending out invitations, presenting art and institutions through these activities,” and that “In the context of a postmodern discourse centered on the displacement of images and objects, she displaced herself, particularly within positions of presentation. For me, it was a pretty short step from there to performing museum tours.” In her 1985 article, Fraser had argued that Lawler “operates from three different yet interdependent positions within the cultural apparatus: that of an exhibiting artist, that of a publicist/museum worker, and that of an art consultant or curator. One position that Lawler tends to refuse, however, is that of “Louise Lawler expert.” Lawler does not want to be the oracle of her own work.

      As Rhea Anastas has stressed, Lawler has developed a number of strategies to sabotage the conferral of authorial authority upon her, for instance by resisting interviews because “they foreground the artist – they tell too much about what wouldn’t be known when confronting the work.” During the discussion following the 2012 Amsterdam version A Movie (with Eric de Bruyn, Andrea Fraser, and audience members), Lawler insisted that was present as a fact checker only – yet another position! “You make suppositions, but you don’t necessarily ascribe them to the artist. You see connections, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the artist got them. But that also doesn’t mean that they’re not there.” In this essay, I will develop some of these connections by relating the piece to other works and to cultural developments from the 70s to the present.

      What makes it particularly challenging to understand A Movie as “a series of traces, shaped and serially reshaped by the interests, desires, and ways of seeing of everyone from the artist to the photographer who documented the events to the historian” is that the very notion of documentation is sabotaged by the nature of the piece. Without a picture: the auditorium goes dark. Nothing to see here – or is there? While cinema marquee can be photographed, like the interior of the cinema, the work itself takes place in obscurity. While Louise Lawler’s memory and archive are obviously a big help, there is no great corpus of reviews or other texts: the work was too marginal to attract much critical attention. One way to approach it is to repeat it, to collaborate with Lawler in adding another iteration. This is what I have done with If I Can’t Dance, but of course the repetition has an impact on the work. In order to approach the work one has to enter it. A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture is a work that can only be interpreted by changing it.

    1. Introduction
    2. Trajectory
    3. Texts
    4. Documentation
    A Movie – Sven Lütticken


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