Milwaukee

“Cut: Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video”

Milwaukee Art Museum

In 1919–20, Hannah Höch juxtaposed figures and text sourced from popular print media to critique the male-dominated culture of Weimar Germany in her photomontage Schnitt mit dem Kuchenmesser Dada durch die letze weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany). Half a century later, Conceptual artists adapted cut-and-paste techniques to the deconstruction of authorship and authenticity. And in the ’80s, appropriations from mass media by Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, and others became associated with a tactic of negation that aimed to further undermine received ideas of originality and hierarchy. But in the past few years, as editors, archivists, VJs, and DJs have begun to enjoy the fruits of auteurlike status, these strategies have become progressively less useful as critical tools.

“Cut: Film as Found Object in Contemporary Video,” curated by Stefano Basilico, attempts to plot the current value of one strand of the collage aesthetic through a selection of recent video art constructed from preexisting film footage. The nine featured artists reshape their source materials via looping, stretching, repetition, and erasure in order to question—but also to celebrate—this quintessentially modern medium. Digital video has displaced the C-print as medium of choice, yet the work here still aims to undercut the authority of pop-cultural representation in the way that ’80s appropriationism did. And now that the fluent reworking of original film footage is more technically straightforward than ever before, the meanings couched therein have become correspondingly complex.

This condition is evident even in an exhibition of only fourteen works. Candice Breitz’s Soliloquy Trilogy, 2000, for example, compresses three Hollywood films into single-actor monologues. Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct (1992), and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971) are each made to appear at once more iconic and less talented than before, as Breitz removes any action that excludes the star. What she ends up with are speeches that initially seem packaged for the obsessive fan but ultimately expose unimaginative story-lines and privileged celebrities. Yet Breitz’s aggressive editing also reconnects the Hollywood script to its literary roots.

In his three boxing videos, all titled The Long Count, 2001, Paul Pfeiffer takes a different route; erasing the fighters, he leaves just their shadowy contours and a shifting background. By contrast, Omer Fast’s CNN Concatenated, 2002, functions additively. Stringing together brief utterances from some of television news’s talking heads, Fast develops a story line assembled from anxious pleas (“Just get near me and pay attention please”) and odd disclaimers (“Look, it’s not happening at this very moment, perhaps not as long as you listen and watch”) mouthed by individuals habitually assumed to be objective. Extending Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) into a twenty-four-hour video projection, Douglas Gordon murders the possibility of suspense. But by doing so he also exposes elements of the movie that are normally overlooked. Bereft of the original sound track, 24-Hour Psycho, 1993, becomes a cadence of non sequiturs that exposes the fundamental composition of cinema.

Pierre Huyghe’s L’Ellipse, 1998, also plays with filmic structure, expanding on Wim Wenders’s The American Friend (1977) by inserting new connective material. Having identified a jump cut in the Wenders original, the artist spliced in his own footage, creating a temporal disruption while furthering the narrative and correcting a perceived psychological oversight in the original. Huyghe’s is a generous gesture, but “Cut” as a whole remains testament to the widespread blunting of editorial scissors.

Michelle Grabner