Berkeley

G.P. Skratz and Linda Lemon

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)

What happens when a poet (G.P. SKRATZ) and a printmaker (LINDA LEMON) spend a year or more making videotapes? The results of this collaboration were shown in the University Art Museum’s Sunday video program. Skratz and Lemon make tapes about words, and poems, and manifestoes, and political flip-flops, and they include just enough action that you don’t realize until later that the unifying thread was words. They do it without becoming literary and precious, and they do it in a way that, in general, is entertaining.

Self Portrait, An Art TV Magazine, of which there are two issues so far, consists of one-minute segments in which participants were asked to do something to convey their essential natures. Some of the vignettes work if you don’t know the performers—Bob Davis, for example, putting on makeup, says, “I’m just looking like me in a dress—doesn’t mean I’m a woman,” or Nancy Frank, with and without glasses, repeating “on/off” at appropriate or inappropriate times until the rhythm of her words approaches that of poetry. Other segments improve with acquaintance: Richard Alpert’s phonebooth conversation about a dictionary is funnier if you know that he has for years published a phone number at which one could hear art sound pieces; the strange car revealed in Davis Ross’ garage is indeed strange, but the thrill of recognition can only come to those familiar with its origin, Ant Farm’s car pieces.

Mom and Pop TV has longer segments of various events, yet the emphasis is still on words. “Shoot the survivors” is the subliminal message of the first section. In another, a Cavellini statement on art is read during a parade in which marchers each bear a letter of his name on red, white and green placards. The final version of the tape will include Allen Ginsberg’s “Father Death Blues,” rather than the “Plutonian Ode” which ends it now, but this shouldn’t mean that the latter won’t be shown again. It is a simple concept, Ginsberg reading his own poem in a single close-up shot, yet he gives such vitality to his world’s-end vision that one is heartened rather than alarmed.

Statute of Liberty, produced by Skratz and Lemon, has a different format and concept; Paul Cotton and Sas Colby recreated Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe in the sculpture garden at the University Art Museum, with Skratz and Lemon there to record it all.

The idea of a video magazine is not peculiar to the Bay Area, but it is a form that seems to thrive particularly well here. A wide enough range of art activity in the region has allowed Skratz and Lemon to produce two issues of Self Portrait with an unstated, perhaps unintentional theme and not come close to repeating themselves. Nor does their magazine bear more than passing resemblance to a precursor, La Mamelle’s Videozine. Skratz and Lemon’s output thus far combines wit and some wisdom, with a well-realized intuition for that which enlightens.

Mary Stofflet