Jesse Jones

06.29.11

Jesse Jones, The Struggle Against Ourselves, 2011, color film in Super 16 mm transferred to video, 21 minutes. Production still. (Photo: Chiara Giovando)


Jesse Jones is a Dublin-based artist whose work was featured in the 11th International Istanbul Biennale in 2009. In tandem with the premiere of her 16-mm film Against the Realm of the Absolute at the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh, Jones’s US debut opens at REDCAT in Los Angeles on June 30. That evening at REDCAT, there will also be an artists’ talk between Jones and Andrea Bowers at 6:30 PM.

THE REDCAT SHOW BRINGS TOGETHER TWO FILMS: The Spectre and the Sphere, and a newly commissioned work, The Struggle Against Ourselves. The latter film is based on a collaborative project I made this past April with a group of CalArts students. When I was invited to exhibit in LA, I really wanted to host a workshop in the theatrical idea of biomechanics and the series of theatrical études created by Vsevolod Meyerhold in the 1920s. These blend Taylorism with the historic, theatrical devices of commedia dell’arte and Kabuki. The études have an incredibly fascinating history and formally resemble the mass spectacles found in Busby Berkeley’s films. But the études have a very different ideological intension, of course. They emerged from a postrevolutionary Russian period in which the idea of the mass still held some idea of historical agency.

Meyerhold’s workshops were very influential during the postrevolutionary period and featured participants such as Igor Ilinsky and Sergey Eisenstein. Konstantin Stanislavsky was also a big fan of Meyerhold, and he believed that they were going to create the theater of the twentieth century. But because Meyerhold became persona non grata under Stalin, none of his ideas were exported to America. He fell out of history; in America, he is virtually unknown. Rather than stage a reenactment of the workshops, I’m instead attempting to stage this kind of event that was historically impossible; it’s presenting a possibility for a different version of mass culture. The performance I made with the students is based on series of photographs of the Meyerhold workshops that were taken in late 1930s by Alexander Grinberg. While looking at Grinberg’s images it is impossible not to draw comparisons to the high Hollywood spectacles of the ’20s and ’30s.

Chi-wang Yang of the Cloud Eye Control theater company facilitated the workshops at CalArts. He brought a huge amount of experience to the project and built the performance with the students during three initial workshops to prepare for the film, which was made over a weekend at CalArts. The film appears at first as an observational documentary, but then it shifts into a dream sequence that echoes the Hollywood style of the Berkeley films. In this way, The Struggle Against Ourselves is a scramble between two vastly different historical impulses––communism and capitalism––and it questions the ways in which that narrative can be played out through the body.

The other film in the show, The Spectre and the Sphere, was made in 2008 in Dublin and Ghent. Both take something from the culture of early-1920s Russia as a starting point––the etudes for The Struggle Against Ourselves, and the theremin in The Spectre and the Sphere. There is an attempt within both of these works to excavate these things, which came out of the ether of the postrevolutionary period and at the time operated as a form of popular culture. The theremin itself has these incredibly interesting origins. It was invented in 1919 by Leon Theremin, who upon its creation brought it to Lenin. I learned that Lenin was very impressed with the instrument and had wanted to learn how to play “The Internationale” on it, although for various historical reasons that didn’t happen. I asked Theremin’s great-niece, Lydia Kavina, to play the song for The Spectre and the Sphere.

The two films are installed so that there is a dialogue created between them; they are projected on opposing walls and sequenced to play at intervals with a specially designed computer program. I’m also showing a new light installation, which plays two sound tracks at interval points within the sequence, so the audience’s vantage point is shifted constantly through the duration of the two works. It is my hope that this light installation draws attention to our spectatorial role within the space of cinema.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler