PRINT September 2019



Lutz Bacher, Big Boy, 1992, fabric, stuffing, faux fur, paint, 96 × 46 × 24".

The whole useless body was invaded by transparency. Little by little the body turned to light. . . . And the person was no longer anything but a sign among the constellations.1

THIS EPIGRAPH, taken from Louis Aragon, appears twice in Lutz Bacher’s handwritten notes from the period during which Closed Circuit, 1997–2000, was being edited. As she described it,

Closed Circuit is the 40 minute digital animation of video stills taken from a year of time lapse video recordings which show a fixed camera perspective of the office of my NY art dealer, Pat Hearn. In the autumn of the year 1997 the animation unfolds in narrative-like sequences around the working interactions of the woman at the center of the universe of her small office. Into the winter and spring this orderly and legible context is transformed by a changeable light source and disrupted by the rapidly accelerating montage. Finally, in the heat of the summer our main protagonist and the space in which she now fleetingly appears have transmuted to a suspension of glowing translucent images which are no longer animated by nor anchored to the former reality—where we began—40 minutes ago—a year ago.2

Citing Adorno’s aesthetic theory—in particular, his ideas about organic/inorganic imagery, technical imperfection, and transparency—Lutz highlighted the epigraph in relation to the piece’s second half, in which an abstracted image emerges after the repositioning of a desk lamp. A letter Lutz wrote to me introducing the work begins, “Here are some ‘materials’ on Closed Circuit—when I first was looking at them seemed an alright idea to send to you—but now a bit strange—maybe connected to this (now ongoing) ‘excavation’ of Huge Uterus—where any ‘explanation’ of the whys and wherefores endlessly recedes upon more ‘digging.’” The letter ends, “For myself now 8 years since beginning—I’ve come to feel that animation is key—creating the illusion of life—as Mr. Incredibles said—Love Always, Lutz.”3

Lutz Bacher, The Celestial Handbook (detail), 2011, eighty-five framed offset book pages, each 10 × 7".

The Celestial Handbook, 2011, Bacher’s elegiac suite of eighty-five framed pages from Burnham’s Celestial Handbook: An Observer’s Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System, is a self-contradiction, scattered, revealing its own impossibility: “an infinite profusion of shining suns.”4 But, as in much of her previous work, the processes of illumination and obliteration (of image, of subject, of author) fuel her thinking across time and media. She knew that certain things cannot be adequately explained or measured. They are cosmic, like Lutz’s jokes, like grief.

I found a note from Lutz on the back of her handwritten specifications for Bingo (Or the Year I Was Born), 2008, the only sculpture exhibited in her resistant survey “My Secret Life” at MOMA PS1 in 2009. It was adapted from a quote she found in a New York Times review of a Paris fashion show, which described “a ‘hideous spectacle of total madness—(it was) everything I really love.’”5 Lutz also loved this huge bingo sign, which she compelled to reveal seemingly inscrutable messages. It resembled her. Later, she would create many large objects, “injecting an unlikely universe populated by a Preposterous collection of objects into the sphere of the museum.”6 The readymade became her absent lover.

She knew that certain things cannot be adequately explained or measured. They are cosmic, like Lutz’s jokes, like grief.

What may have seemed like distanced, aleatory procedures—Lutz’s commanding authority, her feigned indifference—were perhaps, in fact, her rages against rules, against loss, against social order and control. The breadth of her refusal ranged from the existential to the technical, often conflating the two. In an undated document titled “Hover Clutch,” she outlined how she recorded the scan-conversion process for videos such as Closed Circuit; Olympiad, 1997; and Manhatta, 1999, to exploit its unhinging effects on naturalistic movement and sync sound: “All of these effects—many of which come under the general heading of variable frame rates—are tied to image ‘decay,’ dissolution, etc., which goes all the way back in my work to Men at War and The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview.”7

Lutz continued:

In OLYMPIAD “ghosts” of images multiply or the entire image at times disappears to white or starts & stops abruptly or is stitched with dramatic lightning like bolts that are reminiscent of electrical storms. 
In MANHATTA the sense of crumbling rippling terrain and buildings is more silently structural, ebbing & flowing like waves of firmament of an improbably floating island city.
It must be said that neither one of these pieces was initiated with such effects in mind—rather both just happened to be processed afterwards—the result of “corrupted” video tape in the case of OLYMPIAD—the use of anomalous playback in the case of MANHATTA.8

Lutz Bacher, Bingo (Or the Year I Was Born), 2008, Plexiglas, aluminum, steel, paint, lightbulbs, wires, programmable logic controller, 29 × 80 × 6 1⁄2".

The first installation of Closed Circuit was at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2001, seven months after Pat Hearn’s death. The video—silent, with time code stamped on the tightly framed images—which were recorded in the confines of Hearn’s office space, was shown on a twenty-inch LCD monitor in a small room. During my first viewing, I was joined by Hearn’s husband, Colin de Land. The distillation of still images from a year’s worth of video created a suspended sense of space and time—and rendered us motionless for the piece’s duration. Later, Lutz wrote to me:

On the Oscars the man from The Incredibles said, “Animation is about creating the illusion of life,” and of course I thought of you and Closed Circuit and the scene in the room (inside the room) with Colin who said of Closed Circuit it was “the double Corbusier”—and how appropriate it would be if you could write something even in the midst of all these survival issues you are constantly facing—about this “short subject animation” which has never had anything like a “proper” reading.9

Lutz and I struggled to edit one of the passages in the essay I would eventually write for Afterall on My Secret Life. I was trying to describe the transition from the visceral to the conceptual and the drama of receding, literally, into a large field of light: “As this moment unfolds, the sense that someone is leaving the room becomes palpable. The once shared, symbiotic aspect of the project transforms into a crystalline, inorganic work, no longer in a shared process, no longer structured around a ‘we.’ ”10

Lutz wrote to me to clarify her thoughts on absence, and her edits included this explanation: “The characters & events that have populated/defined the space have vanished but still the plane remains—this is something deleuze was very much talking abt at his end—the plane of immanence—this is something I was thinking a lot about in 2003. . . . On that same page in blue—artistic strategy etc—I don’t really do ‘strategy.’ ”11

Of the six postscripts to her regarding Closed Circuit, the last one was:

p.s. To Alessandro who yelled across the street “we love you Lutz”—to which I answered—Thank you . . . 


Lia Gangitano is the founder/director of Participant Inc. 



1. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, “Subjective Aesthetic Experience and its Historical Trajectory,” in Exact Imagination, Late Work: On Adorno’s Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 38.

2. Lutz Bacher, unpublished artist’s statement, 2002.

3. Lutz Bacher, correspondence with the author, March 3, 2005.

4. Robert Burnham, Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, Volume 1: An Observer’s Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System (New York: Dover, 1978), 22.

5. Guy Trebay, “Fashion Has a Marie Antoinette Moment,” New York Times, October 1, 2008.

6. Lutz Bacher, “Do You Love Me? Proposition,” May 23, 2009. From the author’s archives at Participant Inc.

7. Lutz Bacher, “Hover Clutch,” compilation of artist’s notes, undated. From the author’s archives at Participant Inc.

8. Lutz Bacher, Olympiad, artist’s specifications, 1997. From the author’s archives at Participant Inc.

9. Lutz Bacher, correspondence with the author, March 1, 2005.

10. Early draft and process edits for “My Secret Life: Lutz Bacher,” Afterall, no. 17, (Spring 2008: 91–97).

11. Lutz Bacher, email to the author, November 23, 2007.