Authenticity the perfect costume

Two excerpts from This Is Not a Bob Dylan Movie by Robert Sullivan, New York Times Magazine, 7 October 2007:

“Haynes began his one page [summary of his idea for Bob Dylan’s approval] with a Rimbaud quote, Rimbaud being a subject he figured he and Dylan were both familiar with. It was a quote that if he were pitching a film in Hollywood might have killed the project: “I is another.” Then came the Scaduto quote about Dylan creating new identities. Then the pitch, two paragraphs: “If a film were to exist in which the breadth and flux of a creative life could be experienced, a film that could open up as oppose to consolidating what we think we already know walking in, it could never be within the tidy arc of a master narrative. The structure of such a film would have to be a fractured one, with numerous openings and a multitude of voices, with its prime strategy being one of refraction, not condensation. Imagine a film splintered between seven separate faces — old men, young men, women, children — each standing in for spaces in a single life.””

“Haynes generally makes films one of two ways: either with a story line or as a collage of ideas; the latter he once compared to painting while high. “I used to love getting stoned, playing music, getting lost in that canvas and not knowing what it was going to be,” he has said. The Dylan movie, he determined, would be that kind of film. He clipped photos, painted paintings, made cards filled with quotes from Dylan, from the Old Testament, the New Testament. “I will open my mouth in parables,” Haynes copied down from the Gospel of Matthew. “I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” He copied down pages and pages of quotes from social commentaries, from folk songs, from Dylan songs. In one of his notebooks, under the heading “governing concepts/themes,” he wrote: “America obsessed with authenticity/authenticity the perfect costume/America the land of masks, costumes, self-transformation, creativity is artificial, America’s about false authenticity and creativity.” For Robbie, Heath Ledger’s Dylan, whose on-screen marriage (to Charlotte Gainsbourg) fails, he wrote, “A relationship doomed to a long stubborn protraction (not unlike Vietnam, which it parallels).” The notes themselves can seem like a great cache of insider art, printed out with nice fonts, with colors and graphics, reeking of time spent cramming. “I feel like anytime I’ll work on a film, it’s like a giant dissertation, a gigantic undertaking, and this is probably the biggest one,” Haynes told me. “Probably the Ph.D.””

Ben Whishaw as Arthur in I’m Not There, Todd Haynes (2007)



Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing, part one

photo by Al Giese, courtesy of Fales Library, NYU
photo Al Giese, courtesy Fales Library, NYU

Possibilities for a Pleasant Outing was a performance commissioned by  Siobhan Davies Dance and Independent Dance. It attempted to construct a portrait of dancer and choreographer Fred Herko (1936-64) who appeared in many early 1960s New York narratives. As well as being an integral part of the Judson Dance Theater, he starred in several Warhol films, including the now-lost Roller Skate (1963). Working outwards from this artefact, I gathered together traces to be retold while myself attempting to roller skate. These were two problematic tasks: as with many queer archives, Herko’s relies on ephemera and anecdote, while the physical act was hindered by inability.

The following is the first part of five of the annotated version of the performance script, assembled from a wide array of material. For more about the project, see jamieatherton.com/possibilities-for-a-pleasant-outing.



Following the first Concert of Dance a bunch of us piled into a car and drove out to a Staten Island beach. As the sun came up, the awesome specter of the unfinished Verranzano-Narrows Bridge was revealed. Its towers connected by suspension cables, the roadway missing, leaving the vertical cables dangling and unmoored. A functionless ghostly structure, etched surreally in the dawn.(2)

In the centre of the stage is a column, standing upright, eight feet high, two feet on a side, plywood, painted grey. Nothing else is on the stage. For three and a half minutes nothing happens; no one enters or leaves. Suddenly the column falls. Three and a half more minutes elapse.(3)

My sister Jill has already described quite well in Art News the Morris work. I will describe what happened. It was David Bourdon’s birthday and Ann Wilson who also was there had had her birthday the day before and I was to have mine the day following. Mark was Waring a terrific mustard colored wool shirt he said he got at Fulton Market. There was a gray paint smell. A psychiatrist was smoking Edgewood tobacco.(4)

John and Dorothy and Dale and Malka and Billy and Le Roi and Alan and Nick and Diana and Jack and Fred Herko were not there but Michael Malce of the Reuben Gallery showed up. And then there was John Cage and Morton Feldman and Earle Brown and Lois Long and Jasper Johns was wearing a brilliant necktie. It was difficult to see the Morris works there were so many celebs in the way. I didn’t know where to park my gum. Jack and Jill were there and Fred Herko.(5)

It was a great summer. The folk-singer look was in—the young girls with the bangs were wearing shifts and sandals and burlapy things. And this was the summer, too, before the first bombing in Vietnam, the summer of civil rights marches down south, the summer right before the sixties went all crazy for me, before I moved my work space to the 47th Street Factory and the media started writing me up in the new setting with all the superstars. But in this summer of ’63 there were no superstars yet; in fact, I’d only just gotten my first 16-mm camera…(6)

Summer ends where the magic coat begins, and the rumour of death is established. In one leap through the air we breathe.(7)

Such was the oracle that Pelias heard, that a hateful doom awaited him — to be slain at the prompting of the man whom he should see coming forth from the people with but one sandal. And no long time after, in accordance with that true report, Jason crossed the stream of wintry Anaurus on foot, and saved one sandal from the mire, but the other he left in the depths held back by the flood. (8) My love is like a strong white foot.(9)

Tak’s chuckle became a full laugh. “Hey, how’d you lose one sandal?”

“Huh?” He looked down. “Oh … I was being chased. By dogs.”(10)

Freddy on a single skate, rolling into the fixed camera eye time after time.(11)

Uncommitted, uncertain, uneasy, I move through the lower East Side; the body, flawless and easy, extends in my mind through the lights on the street.(12)

Suddenly everyone gets excited and starts running around the Henry Street Playhouse, which is odd, I don’t care whose foot it is, and Midi Garth goes tearing down the aisle towards Fred Herko while Sybil Shearer swoons in the balcony, which is like a box when she’s in it, and Paul Taylor tells Bob Rauschenberg it’s on fire and Bob Rauschenberg says what’s on fire and…(13) Time goes by, reputation increases, ability declines.(14)

I filmed Freddy three times. The first time was just a short dance thing on a roof. The second was a segment for The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys where Freddy sat nervously in a chair for three minutes, smoking a cigarette. And the third was called Rollerskate, and Freddy was the star of it. He put a skate on one foot and we filmed him rolling on it all over town and over in Brooklyn Heights, day and night, gliding in dance attitudes and looking as perfect as the ornament on the hood of a car.(15)

(1) Jill Johnston, quoted in Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962-1964, 1983
(2) Yvonne Rainer, Feelings Are Facts, 2006
(3) Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘Mechanical Ballets: Light, Motion Theatre’, 1977, from Dance (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art), 2012
(4) Ray Johnston, ‘Review by Ray Johnston (In the Style of Floating Bear)’, The Floating Bear, issue 27, November, 1963
(5) ibid

(6) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980
(7) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(8) Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 3rd century BC
(9) Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959

(10) Samuel R Delany, Dhalgren, 1975
(11) Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(12) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(13) Frank O’Hara, ‘Dances Before the Wall’, 1959

(14) Gerard Malanga, ‘To Come and Leave Nothing Behind’, poem quoted in full in Donald McDonagh, ‘The Incandescent Innocent’, Film Culture, volume 45, 1967
(15) Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, POPism, 1980

…what it might be like to admit such speculations into the discourse of art history itself…

Excerpt from Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948– 1963 by Gavin Butt, Duke University Press, 2005.

“As Jacques Derrida has already argued in his 1995 book Archive Fever, psychoanalysis has necessarily engendered a different way of thinking about what it might mean to undertake archival work, especially insofar as it addresses itself to those unconscious phenomena which, by dint of their nature, do not become manifest as such in the conscious, public world of human utterance and discourse. “Freud’s intention,” Derrida writes, was “to analyze, across the apparent absence of memory and of archive, all kinds of symptoms, signs, figures, metaphors, and metonymies that attest, at least virtually, an archival documentation where the ‘ordinary historian’ identifies none”. Thus, psychoanalysis, in reading the apparent absences within the archival record as significant — as symptomatic of some repression, as pregnant with psychodynamic meaning — has provided us with an interpretative legacy which can no longer remain satisfied with the horizon of meanings recuperable through a conventional attention to the archival record: of books, papers, images, and other avowedly important documents.” –p.17

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Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob) and Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), Entre nous (Between Us), 1926 (SFMOMA)

…as if she’s fallen into some intimate alignment with the logic of a remote and foreign cosmos (of another person, time, place).

A segment of the essay on Felix Gonzalez-Torres by Miwon Kwon — concerning both portraiture and archives — from which the title for the workshop is taken:

“On the one hand, the simultaneous feeling of intimacy and distance that I am trying to describe is not untypical of a researcher’s encounter with material left behind in any archive. Digging through accumulated letters, photos, tapes, journals, notes, memorabilia, sketches, and other ephemera that once belonged to someone — saved for everyone and no one at the same time — the researcher finds herself an intruder (albeit one with exceptional privilege of access), Propelled by the hope of discovering unknown information or as-yet unarticulated insights, even secrets, regarding an artist and his or her work, the researcher moves through the archival terrain understanding its ultimate indifference to the specificity of her identity and desire. Nonetheless, she harbors the fantasy that, surely, the buried information, insights, and secrets have been waiting specifically for her gaze, for the narration that only she could give them. A world of private thoughts, feelings, and exchanges that were never meant for her eyes or ears coalesces as a palpable reality in her imagination. She thinks what she finds is familiar, even if her discoveries are contrary to her expectations. The researcher is rewarded with a sense of connection and continuity — with history, with ideas, with persons, with the reality of others, with truth. And even though this sense of connection and continuity is premised on insurmountable separation and discontinuity, the misrecognition provides a kind of solace that affirms her sense of self as a knowing and intelligent person, as if she’s fallen into some intimate alignment with the logic of a remote and foreign cosmos (of another person, time, place).” –Miwon Kwon, The Becoming of a Work of Art: FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce, published in Felix Gonzalez-Torres, edited by Julie Ault

All images from The Carl George / Felix Gonzalez-Torres / Ross Laycock archive at Visual AIDS. See the Visual Aids blog for more information.