Friday, November 23, 2012

Year of the Strike, Hour of the Knife

Last night I attended the second of three curated video presentations in VIVO's Anamnesia: Unforgetting series: Ph.D. poet/activist Donato Mancini's "Year of the Strike, Hour of the Knife", a program of "[a]rt videos and activist tapes from 1975–1989 that publicize the dialectic of Santiago, Chile and Vancouver, Canada within neoliberal mythology."

While Donato's selection looked great on paper, sitting through its sixty-plus minutes was something of a chore. Following a short food and drink break, Donato then presented a rather dense, quickly read philosophical passage from his accompanying essay concerning, appropriately enough, Time. Although respondent Juan Manuel Sepulveda did his best to open a window on Donato's poly-temporal theorization of the topic (Donato's essay will be part of an upcoming publication), I remained distracted by the curator's categorization of the works in his program, most notably his reference (once at the beginning, once at the end) to Sara Diamond's Ten Dollars or Nothing (1989) as (temporally) "linear," a work whose linearity, it seems to me, is dealt with (dialectically) through a reorganization not of Time but of Space, a la the passe-partout device so common to video at that time.

Vancouver has a number of English Ph.D. poets who write on, and work in, the visual arts. However, while I often enjoy what these scholar/poets bring to their readings, there are occasions where I find their views lacking when it comes to discussions particular to the medium or materials under study. This was evident last night, where Donato alluded to Jane Wright's Electronic Sunset works (#35, #43) as the more artful of his program's videos, without saying why. But of course we know why, for these are works that abstract nicely, where the presence of the medium's raster lines coincide with /contribute to their ongoing and patterned transformation, much like the sunsets both the artist (Wright) and the curator (Donato) associate these transformations with. (Yet when it comes to Ten Dollars or Nothing -- a work that combines both formal abstraction and expressive ethnographic rhetorics -- Donato speaks of this work not at the forefront of his program, but to the side.)

Although it was obviously not Donato's intention to explore the individual works included in his program, perhaps he will do so in his essay. Indeed, as to my question concerning the length of his program, his answer gave me hope -- "it is not the length of the program that is the problem but the chairs we are sitting on." What's that old expression -- It is a poor workman who blames his tools? Maybe so. For as logic tells us, a false premise can lead to a true conclusion. Maybe this (too) is what Donato has achieved with his program.

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