Steve Reinke

YYZ Artists' Outlet

Having nearly completed his hundred-part oeuvre “The Hundred Videos,” 1989–19, Steve Reinke recently exhibited videos 55 through 67. In a city so dense with smart psychoanalytic cinema, Reinke wields the language of the unconscious as lightly as a portable video camera. He plays with the thinness of images and the inadequacy of words, the gap between language and desire. Ever inventive and curious, he uses video like a sketch pad. Most of the works are between 30 seconds and 4 minutes long and very simply constructed: with minimal camera movement or a little archival material, some text, and a digital effect or two. The series is woven together by Reinke’s pleasant, diffident voice, which eases the viewer into improbable scenarios or appalling fantasies.

Reinke is compassionate toward his subjects: in the words of one of his titles, he squeezes “sorrow from an ashtray.” A voiceover on the soundtrack of the Apollo moon landing posits that the 17-second delay in the live transmission of Neil Armstrong’s voice was to cover the fact that the astronaut was not claiming giant steps for mankind but lamenting the loss of his boyhood pet. “I dedicate these first small steps to Sparky.” Reinke’s tender interest and faith in the characters who populate his tapes rescue the most banal confessions from the pathetic and infuse them with the pathos of fading memories. His telling fragments suggest that what is significant in many people’s lives can be evoked from one small thing: a joke, a dog, a photograph.

Though Reinke fills these videos with his own thoughts, revealing the most intimate things about his fantasies, his childhood, his family, there is an ironic note that undercuts the confessional quality, as if Reinke hesitated to burden the viewer. The texts scrolling across the screen act as a disclaimer, acknowledging the post-Modern condition as one might admit to a blemish or bad breath.

The videomaker himself never appears on-screen—in Black Heart, 1995, he digitally tries on a series of tattoos, but the body is Bruce Nauman’s self-portrait as a fountain. Not masochistically but quasi-scientifically, Reinke mortifies the flesh in order to isolate desire: if you cannot both be and have, Reinke chooses to have. Often he evokes a desiring body without organs, as in a dream of falling in love with a boy without bones (charmingly enacted with minimalist hand puppets). In Barely Human, 1992, Reinke describes the ideal form for his own body: a torso from which several long “trunks” emanate to terminate in forms like fingers, a penis, and “a large, rectangular eye,” the better with which to view his lover while giving him pleasure. While Reinke describes this ideal, images of men’s faces in orgasm become increasingly distorted by video interference, giving the lie to his perfect love machine. In the course of Reinke’s libidinal fine-tuning, the maker’s body disappears, placing the object of desire in sharp relief—but at this point it, too, evaporates into scrolling raster lines or treacherous language. In Sleep, 1994, Reinke reveals that he is renouncing sex in order to make his lover come by whispering to him in his sleep. “Soon,” he tells him, “I’ll be able to let you know exactly what you want.”

Laura U. Marks